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‘How do we make the tech world a more equal place?’

PUBLISHED: 09:30 21 February 2016

Andy Larholt (Picture: Juliet Lemon Photography)

Andy Larholt (Picture: Juliet Lemon Photography)

(c)JulietLemon

Tech City is the third-largest technology hub in the world, and it’s right on our doorstep. Each week, the Gazette brings you news from the thriving area around Old Street roundabout. This week, Victoria Ibitoye meets Andy Larholt, the CEO of a tech recruitment firm that hosts an annual “Women in Technology” event with a view to levelling the industry playing field

Guests at the 'Women in Technology' event (Picture: Juliet Lemon Photography)Guests at the 'Women in Technology' event (Picture: Juliet Lemon Photography)

Tech is undeniably a growing industry.

The average salary in the sector is now £50,000 – 36 per cent higher than the national average, according to the Tech Nation report released last week.

Still, as the industry has grown, so have its critics, who claim the sector still has considerable steps to take to tackle its lack of diversity.

Women make up less than 15 per cent of the science, tech, engineering and maths workforce in the UK, despite the fact the industry is growing faster than ever before.

In fact, tech grew 32 per cent more quickly than the rest of the economy between 2010 and 2014 – which Andy Larholt, CEO of tech recruitment firm Montash, says is good news.

Guests at the 'Women in Technology' event (Picture: Juliet Lemon Photography)Guests at the 'Women in Technology' event (Picture: Juliet Lemon Photography)

“Tech is so fast moving that it stays up and keeps up with emerging tech trends,” Mr Larholt, 36, tells the Gazette.

“The fact tech is moving is only good news for us. And obviously the Tech Nation report is nationwide – the national average tech salary in London is likely to be closer to £60,000.”

Andy was just 24 when he first decided to take the plunge and set up in Old Street in 2004.

“I was working for a large IT recruiter,” he said. “I saw it was becoming bigger and the people coming into tech were different and I wanted to start a company that was much more specific.

“When I first started it was completely self-financed. A lot of tech start ups run through a lot of money very quickly, but recruitment is different. It’s a people business.

Guests at the 'Women in Technology' event (Picture: Juliet Lemon Photography)Guests at the 'Women in Technology' event (Picture: Juliet Lemon Photography)

“Our ethos is about knowing the right people, so the [value] of people becomes your income.”

Montash, which initially began as a one-man company, now employs about 50 people worldwide. It has placed candidates in tech giants Microsoft, eBay, Skype and IBM.

According to Mr Larholt, finding the best and most diverse talent is the brief.

But what about getting more women in to the industry?

“Everyone blames the government,” he admitted. “It’s easy to.

Guests at the 'Women in Technology' event (Picture: Juliet Lemon Photography)Guests at the 'Women in Technology' event (Picture: Juliet Lemon Photography)

“But at school level we need to get more women into STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] and computer science.

“Problems getting women in to tech are more grassroots. How many women enter STEM really depends on the subjects they have taken. Decisions at higher levels, however, are based more on things like family and career.

“I think it’s important for employers to have flexibility so women are not sacrificing family and care.

“I also think it’s important to have a diverse leadership team and then it comes down to recruitment policy.”

Montash runs a yearly Women in Technology event with a panel of industry-leading CIOs (chief information officers) to debate and discuss issues in tech.

Guests at the 'Women in Technology' event (Picture: Juliet Lemon Photography)Guests at the 'Women in Technology' event (Picture: Juliet Lemon Photography)

Isobel Thomson, Heinz CIO; Mary LeBlanc of Novartis Pharma; and Dana Deasy, the CIO of BP Group, were guests on the first panel.

“We select a panel of very well known people in tech to interview and debate with,” says Mr Larholt.

“We try to identify the causes [of the low number of women in the industry] and then we publish a paper that we distribute.

“It’s something I’m passionate about.”

Like most tech companies, when sourcing candidates for large tech firms, Montash works largely on recommendations.

Critics say this can act as a barrier to diversity and encourage cliques – but Mr Larholt is not having it.

“I disagree,” he said. “I think if you’re asking a diverse pool of people for recommendations you will get a diverse pool of people recommended.”

While the tech industry is still developing, it has made some steps to tackle its ever-present diversity problem.

More women have begun entering the sector through marketing roles that do not require such a stringent computer science background, allowing them to overcome barriers they might have encountered when choosing subjects at school and university.

With tech fast becoming a more lucrative and perhaps less risky alternative to the banking industry, one can only hope more women – from all backgrounds – step up to take their slice of the pie.

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