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The original software engineer

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By: Joey Tait, Managing Director, develop

Margaret Hamilton, the original software engineer, was born on 17th August 1936 in Paoli, Indiana. In the early sixties, she wrote software used by the US Air Force to search for potentially ‘unfriendly’ aircraft, as well as satellite tracking software. This work would ultimately lead to her attaining the position of Lead Developer for the Apollo flight software at NASA.

Without Hamilton, we may have considered ‘software engineering’ very differently today, as she is attributed with creating the name and helping to establish the field’s credibility. Hamilton said, “I fought to bring the software legitimacy so that it – and those building it – would be given due respect and thus I began to use the term ‘software engineering’ to distinguish it from hardware and other kinds of engineering, yet treat each type of engineering as part of the overall systems engineering process.”

Women in software engineering now

Hiring Software Engineers that possess a combination of both technical know-how and complimentary soft skills is an ongoing challenge. That is why talent attraction (and retention) has to be a priority for hiring managers in the industry.

Yet, we know that only 31 per cent of UK tech jobs are held by women, and within this, they hold just 10 per cent of leadership roles. If men and women are to be treated equally in the workplace, a few things need to change.

The past year has seen women forced out of the workforce, something which could have a ripple effect for talent pipelines in years to come. Data shows that this could mean progress for women in the workplace could be back at 2017 levels by the end of 2021, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This damage should not reach a point where it is irreversible. But there are changes we can make within the software engineering industry – and beyond – to make it more inclusive for everyone.

Stabilising work/life balance

Managing the time spent working while in a remote environment is an ongoing challenge. In fact, the average UK employee is putting in an additional two hours a day since the order to work remotely was put in place last year. Remote working is also having an impact on people’s mental health, with 67 per cent saying they feel less connected to their colleagues and 56 per cent saying they find it harder to switch off.

We shouldn’t be viewing having a healthy work/life balance as an achievement. It is crucial for employers to ensure that no one is spending more time at work than they should be, and remember, this applies for both men and women too!

The goalposts have shifted in light of the pandemic and it has reshaped our working lives. Moving forward, whether this is through remote work, flexible work or even ‘hybrid’ working models, attention needs to be paid to ensure there is respect towards balancing the personal and professional lives of all colleagues and employees.

Make flexible and part time roles part of your offering

In becoming more flexible as an industry, organisations could help encourage more women into software engineering roles. It can also mean that both men and women can take the time they need to carry out childcare, or other caring responsibilities.

Flexibility in a role is something that more and more candidates are looking for, particularly post-pandemic. Half of employees say that they would look for a new job if their bosses do not allow flexible working after lockdown. This is no longer a ‘nice to have’ but should instead be considered as critical when engaging with potential new talent coming to the business.

The pandemic has also seen an increase in childcare and domestic work for women – who were already typically doing three quarters of this work. Employers should take the time to consider which roles in the business need to be full-time or office-based positions, in order to open the door to women who may have struggled to find or retain roles in the industry before. Flexible working policies can help to improve retention of women, although this alone will not be enough to improve gender diversity.

It’s also critical for employers to up their game on parental leave policies. Parents should not have to choose between their children and their career. It’s as simple as that. Shared parental leave was introduced in the UK in 2015, signifying a huge milestone for the opportunity to manage and balance childcaring duties. Organisations need to be more supportive of current or future employees plans to start a family, rather than penalising them.

Use gender-neutral language in all settings

Across a range of industries, the sentiment around inclusive language within job applications is much the same. It is often the case that women won’t apply for a job if they don’t feel like they have exactly the right experience, or do not align with the messaging in the advertisements. This can have a catastrophic impact for women’s progress; moving horizontally through roles, as they watch their male counterparts step up.

Insurance giant Zurich set the example here. They saw a 16 per cent increase in women applying for jobs after it became the first company in the UK to advertise all its vacancies with the options of ‘part-time’, ‘job-share’ or ‘flexible working’. It also saw a rise in applications from men too. See, it benefits both men and women!

It shouldn’t stop there though. Ensuring that inclusive language is also used in an office setting is critical too. We need to promote an industry whereby each individual feels included and that they belong. That’s the key.

Organisations need to welcome in greater diversity within their teams in order to experience greater success. Signalling that the software engineering industry is an inclusive one, with flexibility and support for each employee’s specific requirements is therefore critical to attracting talent. There is a long way to go still but actioning some simple changes can make all the difference.

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