Last year, less than 10% of those completing an A-level computing course were female.
In 2016, UCAS warned that the gender gap in UK degree subjects had doubled in eight years, with computer science suffering the largest gender disparity. The long term effects are clear: only 17% of employees in the UK tech sector are female.
School age experience of computing is only one of the many routes towards a career in IT, but the lack of girls taking part in these educational activities is worrying. What prevents them from considering IT as an area in which they can succeed?
I took computer studies at O-Level (the equivalent of GCSEs), led to the subject by an interest in maths. I was fortunate to not be the only female in the class; I attended an all-girls school, so there was less of a gender bias to influence our subject choices. I went on to university to study maths and then computer science.
We also know that parental influence can be a factor in subject and career choice – our research showed that British parents would rather their daughters be doctors and lawyers than programmers or game developers. Neither of my parents went to university. My career aspirations were never questioned or discouraged, and I felt able to follow my interests wherever they took me. I hope all young girls feel the same.
Today, I am Head of Business Systems at Nominet. I am the second most senior person in the IT Operations Department and have never felt that being a lone woman was an issue. That said, I can understand that young girls are largely influenced by their own – and their influencers – assumptions about life working in IT. I think it’s time to debunk those myths and ensure that talented, female youngsters with an interest in tech are not inhibited.
‘You’ll be the only woman in the office’
This isn’t true. The first two jobs I had were at companies with plenty of women. Today there are fewer females in my department than we would like, but a lack of women has never limited me. I work with people all across the business, many of whom are women, right up to the top.
‘You won’t get promoted’
I’ve been promoted – lots. Promotions are given for ability and skill. I’m good at multitasking, which is a valuable tool in my line of work. A good company will always recognise ability and prize it accordingly.
‘It’s repetitive, dull work’
Not true! My work is varied and interesting, with new challenges and surprises almost every single day. I am also fortunate that, as I work in technology, my work really matters. We live in a digital world in which technology and the internet powers almost everything we do. My job is relevant and important – how can that ever be dull?
‘You’ll have to work with geeks’
Geeks and nerds have a bad reputation. They are people with passion, often very good at what they do, and they are inspiring to work alongside. I work with many different people with different skills and interests across all the different departments, from marketing and customer services to systems administrators and programmers. As Bill Gates said, “be nice to the nerds. Chances are you’ll end up working for one.” That boss geek could be you – I say go for it.
‘You’ll get paid less than men’
Not necessarily. I have always been paid fairly – and well – for the work I have done. The tech industry offers some excellent and highly competitive salaries, so it is a financially smart choice for those with money on the mind. We are also entering an era in which pay parity between genders is discussed, and rectified if imbalanced. I’d advise any young woman to always value her contribution and to seek recognition and appropriate compensation for her efforts, rather than expect it to just happen.
‘You won’t be able to have a family’
I have a family. In fact, I was promoted as I returned from maternity leave! That said, I might have climbed higher up the career ladder if I hadn’t chosen to balance my work/life more equally. Everyone has that choice; I wanted a family and I wanted to spend time with them. Returning to work was easy, as was adjusting my hours as required. Good salaries across the industry also help working mums pay for childcare if needed.
Don’t let anything inhibit the idea that a woman can thrive in IT. Today’s society is waking up to historical and social gender disparity and efforts are being made to rectify the wrongs. IT has a place for all those with determination and talent, regardless of their gender.
About the author
Barbara Bellis is Head of Business Systems at Nominet – the internet company best known for running of the .UK family of domain names.
Barbara joined Nominet back in 2001 as a software developer, and now leads the software development team – whose work underpins the entire .UK domain name – a critical system for keeping the UK on the global online map.