How Leeds Building Society plans to achieve diversity in tech

Nicholas Fearn
clock • 5 min read

Leeds' Becky Hewitt talks about some of the initiatives the building society has adopted to achieve its target of 33 per cent of women holding senior leadership roles by 2021

A lack of available and suitably experienced candidates means IT roles are difficult to fill and it's even harder to have diversely balanced shortlists.

That's according to Becky Hewitt, director of people at Leeds Building Society. Like many others, she believes that gender imbalance has become a major concern for organisations and business leaders. 

"Leeds Building Society employs nearly 1,400 colleagues, of which over 60 per cent are women. In our tech roles, the ratio switches, with the majority of roles held by men," she says.

"We are not the only employer who is facing this challenge and it is not exclusive to the financial sector. In the digital sector, only a quarter of roles are held by women. The challenge extends to education and how these roles are positioned as exciting and achievable careers for women."

Around 90 per cent of all jobs over the next 20 years will require some level of digital skills

Gender diversity is growing issue for businesses. According to figures from Tech Nation, women make up just 19 per cent of the IT workforce. What's more, only 22 per cent of tech directors are females.

Hewitt says there's imperative to grow the talent pipeline, which means that businesses must make tech careers attractive to a broader range of people. "It is a necessity, which will help organisations thrive and survive, or be left behind."

Closing the divide 

But how can organisations close this gap? For Hewitt, much-needed change should start in schools, colleges and universities. 

She tells Computing: "It's estimated around 90 per cent of all jobs over the next 20 years will require some level of digital skills, so the UK education system needs to be embracing that as the norm now. 

"Young women coming into the world of work need to see women having senior roles in an organisation to feel inspired and motivated to progress themselves and as an indicator of organisational culture."

In particular, Hewitt says digital and IT apprenticeships and mentoring programmes can support women in the workplace as well as having practical further education and degree programmes available.  

"Opportunities in IT and digital are often just not visible enough or made attractive to women. Employers can also help by working with schools and colleagues to promote digital and IT opportunities," she continues.

Change within 

At Leeds Building Society, Hewitt is responsible for human resources, learning and development, and people risk. And a big part of her role has been improving employee diversity throughout the organisation. 

"I lead the development and implementation of our People Strategy, which is aligned to the delivery of our strategy and our purpose, which is to help people save and have the home they want. Our People Strategy drives high colleague-engagement, through principles of leadership, high performance, fair reward and investing in talent," she says. 

Hewitt and her team are working to review the design of jobs so that they use gender-neutral language

Recently, the organisation completed a major overhaul of its careers site to not only make it more digitally savvy and user-friendly, but also to excite candidates and attract a more diverse population. "We have taken feedback from people from a diverse range of backgrounds and experiences to help us," says Hewitt. 

As well as this, Hewitt and her team are working to review the design of jobs so that they use gender-neutral language. The aim is for job adverts to appeal to both men and women. 

Speaking about other efforts, Hewitt says: "We also offer as much flexibility in hours and location of working as we can. We also use software, which prompts gender neutrality in the language in job advertising and helps us position our roles to external candidates in a much more balanced way.

"Interestingly, we are seeing younger women securing tech roles with us. The majority of women in our digital and IT jobs are aged under 30, which means the tide is turning."

With these practical steps in mind, the organisation has set a target of 33 per cent of women holding board and senior leadership level roles by 2021. 

Hewitt says: "To change an organisation's composition at a senior level is tricky and takes time and a lot of focused effort.  

Even in Silicon Valley, only 11 per cent of top jobs in tech are held by women

"We only work with search firms for these roles, who have signed the industry Code of Conduct for balanced shortlists; use gender balanced interview panels; and are changing our application approach to focus specifically on the skills and attributes of the candidate, rather than using a more traditional CV assessment."

When asked to provide advice to females entering the industry, Hewitt responded: "IT and digital roles are incredibly creative and rewarding.  With the advance of digital, AI, machine learning and robotics, it presents additional challenges to businesses and boundless opportunities to talented, ambitious individuals.

"There are stereotypes that need to be broken. Even in Silicon Valley, only 11 per cent of top jobs in tech are held by women. The more women enter the profession, the more robust and thoughtful technological solutions will be. This is not a quick or easy journey; it will take a generation. 

She concludes: "I would encourage young girls and women to research companies to understand their culture and their commitment to diversity. As with any career, tech will mean constant learning and adapting to change - but that's the excitement."

Computing and CRN have united to present the Women in Tech Festival UK 2019, coming to London on 17 September.

The event will celebrate successful women in the IT industry, enabling attendes to hear about, and to share, personal experiences of professional journeys and challenges.

Whether you're the ‘Next Generation', an ‘Inspirational Leader', or an ‘Innovator of Tech' this event will offer inspiration on not only how to improve yourself, but how to help others too. 

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