(Bloomberg) — The rollback of flexible working at UK tech companies is reversing gender equality gains made in the aftermath of the pandemic.
Women made up just one in five new tech hires over the last two years at firms where staff are required to come into the office at least four days a week, according to a survey of 1,185 UK chief technology and information officers conducted between June and September by digital consultancy Nash Squared published Monday. The hiring rate for women is 50% higher at companies where employees can work from home most or all of the time.
"It wasn't that brilliant for diversity before Covid, it was much better during and slightly after, and now we seem to have lost our corporate memory and going back to the way it was," said Bev White, chief executive officer at Nash Squared.
Flexible working during the pandemic was shown to help boost the number of women in work as it gave many a chance to advance their careers while also carrying out other responsibilities such as parenting. While some firms have embraced hybrid work policies, others are moving back to a policy that requires staff at the office more often, which is already impacting the gender balance at finance firms.
The story has looked more promising for women working in tech in the UK, whose number has climbed over the last decade to almost half a million, according to separate data from the Office for National Statistics. The growth is slightly faster than for male employees, who significantly outnumber them at 1.2 million. Yet there are signs that even that is starting to backtrack.
While the sector grew by 85,000 workers in the three months to June, the number of women in tech fell by 3,500, ONS numbers show. This comes as employers, from JPMorgan Chase and Amazon.com Inc., to Blackrock and Goldman Sachs, are stepping up the return-to-office push. The government has attempted to navigate a fine line between encouraging companies to return to offices, and boost city economies, while increasing the size of the workforce.
Only 12% of UK tech teams are now run by a woman, the survey showed, compared with 15% in 2022. Yet the glacial push for more women leaders isn't specific to the UK. Only 14% of the tech teams globally are run by a woman, an increase of just two percentage points since 2019.