Getting young women excited about a career in tech

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Article provided by Hilary Stephenson, managing director at user experience agency Sigma.

When searching online for images related to ‘technology jobs’, you will be presented with a sea of men’s faces.

Although a very traditional portrayal of the industry, it is – sadly – not totally false. A recent study found that women fill only 26 per cent of technical roles and this is a decline on last year’s figure.

Tech giants such as Apple are working hard to address this issue, for example, through its programme that provides female app creators with the tools needed to thrive in today’s industry. But, despite these efforts, the fact still remains that there is a major gender imbalance in today’s tech industry.

In particular, there is a lack of young women pursuing careers within the sector. According to recent research, only half of an already limited number of females between the ages of 16 and 18 that take up tech-related subjects at A Level, go into a job within the same field.

So, what can we do to even the playing field?

Quite simply, the key to triggering change is to get women genuinely excited about a career in technology. Let’s explore a few ways of putting this idea into practice.

Rewriting stereotypes

Traditionally, technology is considered a ‘man’s world’ and a field that is stereotypically ‘geeky’. This needs to change.

Providing women with inspiring female role models is just one way of achieving this. From Erie Mayer, who cofounded the United States Digital Service and Code for America, to Meg Witman, CEO of HP, there is already an abundance of women doing amazing things across the industry. However, worryingly, 83 per cent of women admitted to not knowing any female tech role models. How can we expect girls to aspire to careers in tech if they are unaware of women that have succeeded in this space before them? We need to do more to not only promote more women to prestigious positions within the sector, but to also shout about their success.

The media can – and should – play a major role in this. If it pays an equal amount of attention to the triumphant female, transgender and non-binary techies already conquering the industry – publishing more positive content around their achievements – we can expect young people to become aware of more figureheads growing up. This could see a spike in women growing up to aspire to be similar to these successful individuals in the tech and digital space.

At a lower scale, it is important to provide young women with opportunities to meet and be mentored by other like-minded female peers in the sector. There are some great meet-ups, coding clubs, and women in tech events available, such as the Manchester Digital Her initiative, WIT North and Women Hack. These are a great way to encourage and empower women to explore their tech talent in environments where they feel not just supported – but safe.

Education is key

We need to shift girls’ perceptions around a career in tech from a young age. This must happen within the core subjects – science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

As it stands, there is a wealth of evidence to suggest that girls are not given the same level of encouragement to pursue tech-related subjects or careers as boys. While there are some anomalies to this, such as girls outshining boys in 2018’s A level computing results, females still only made up 20 per cent of entries for this subject. Additionally, just a quarter of females had a career in tech suggested to them whilst at school, versus 33 per cent of their fellow male students. And only three per cent of female high school students would choose the technology sector as a career choice because of a lack of advice and guidance given to them around this industry at school.

To resolve this problem, teachers and parents need to remove any gender bias around tech-related careers and – more importantly – all job opportunities. By portraying careers as gender neutral, we can expect to prevent pupils thinking they are unable to pursue a certain career path due to their gender. In reality, this could take the form of holding career workshops with an equal representative of both men and women for each job role. Plus, teachers should ensure their day-to-day discussions with students support the fact that women are just as capable of succeeding at a career in tech as men.

What next?

It is all very well discussing these ideas, but it means nothing unless they are put into action.

Whilst it is not something that is going to be fixed overnight, if we all start working together to ensure women are given sufficient opportunity to pursue a career in tech, we can expect to help level the industry’s gender imbalance. Not only this, but it also presents the perfect opportunity to close the ever-widening gender skills gap in the sector. We also need to be particularly mindful to those in the trans and non-binary community, so we don’t exclude them through the language we use when promoting Women in tech events.

In short, this is not an issue that can be ignored any longer. We need to up our game and make sure that the next tech generation welcomes a new wave of diverse, inspirational people.

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