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Inspiring girls into the tech roles of tomorrow
Girls need to be engaged at a young age before they reach negative conclusions about the STEM industry. Emily Smith, data scientist at BJSS, shares some advice on how schools can do this
Some of the most powerful leaders in the technology industry today are women. Think Sheryl Sandberg, Susan Wojciki and Meg Whitman – inspiring female role models paving the future of the tech sector. It’s an exciting space hot on innovation and creativity.
In the UK, the industry is growing at 2.6 times faster than the overall economy, bringing with it the high-skilled, high-paying jobs of the future. However, last year only 17 per cent of those working in tech in the UK were female – that’s a significant gender imbalance. But why?
The fact is women are often put off entering the sector due to a lack of opportunities and the prevalence of a male dominated culture. Popular TV shows like ‘The IT Crowd’ and ‘Silicon Valley’ play on the tech stereotypes, presenting the sector as a 21st Century boys club and this negative perception needs to change, and it starts in the classroom.
We need to engage with girls at a young age before they reach negative conclusions about the industry and it can’t just be left to schools. Businesses, charities and the government all have a role to play in breaking down gender clichés and inspiring the next generation into pursuing careers that are often underrepresented. While there is no simple answer, there is a combination of factors that can help address the gender gap.
Taking the subject
A large part of the problem is a lack of girls choosing STEM subjects in schools. Only seven per cent of those who take computer science A-level courses are female and just half of the girls that study IT and Tech subjects at school go into a job in the same field.
However, thanks to global movements like #MeToo, there has been a growth in not-for‑profit initiatives like ‘Digital Her’, introducing girls to female role models and visible mentors within the tech industry. By exposing girls to inspirational women who have been successful in their field is a good starting point in building excitement around STEM-related school subjects and the confidence and desire to explore digital and tech as a viable career route. It’s about giving them the options, so they are free to make their own choices.
Another vital element is encouraging wider uptake of coding clubs in schools and getting more girls involved. Having companies invest in workshop programmes offers a fun, creative learning environment for kids to understand why digital skills are important. As digital technology becomes an ever-larger part of our lives, demand for people adept at coding will only increase. Getting girls to start coding at a young age will help them get excited about building their own scripts or solving various problems so they can get to grips with the applications of coding in the real world.
We also need to address the role parents play in influencing girls’ opinion of the tech sector. Kids are impressionable and if their parents aren’t actively encouraging tech as an exciting career path then it’s no surprise that kids’ awareness of the opportunities available are relatively low. Parents are responsible for laying the foundations, so it’s crucial that schools and businesses look further than the classroom to tackle the gender imbalance in STEM-related subjects. By encouraging parents to get involved in the coding workshops and inviting them to school career discussions led by female industry experts will only help showcase the diversity of roles the tech space has to offer.
A positive change
Despite the current challenges the tech sector faces, a positive change is occurring. There is a heightened awareness across the industry of the benefits a diverse workforce can bring. Having a team of talented men and women brings out the best results – men are often objective, while women have the creative skills to unite teams to work towards a common goal. We are seeing positive changes in the field with a range of diversity and inclusion programmes being introduced in the workplace, but we’ve still got a long way to go. More needs to be done across the board to address gender equality in the tech sector. Mindsets need to change, and this needs to start from an early age.
About the author: Emily Smith gained an Honours degree in Statistics from the University of Glasgow. Following this she moved to the South of England to work as a data scientist in the cyber security team at BAE Systems Applied Intelligence. Emily then joined the BJSS data science team in January 2018 and now lives and works in Manchester.