How Do We Get More Women Into Technology?
We are facing a huge deficit. By 2017 Europe will have a digital skills gap of around 750,000, rising to one million by 2020. Digital job growth is forecasted to outperform all other occupations within the next five years. As we move towards ‘The Internet Of Things”, where everything from your kitchen cupboards to your doorbells are connected, Coders will be needed in their droves. If the UK doesn’t counteract this skills gap it will soon find itself lagging behind in the globally competitive digital market.
So where will we find a goldmine of Coders? Well there’s a huge resource that is still currently being left untapped – women. Only 17% of women currently make up the industry and less than 10% of founders in tech startups are women. As Sinead Bunting, Monster’s UK marketing director points out, “even the House of Lords has a better diversity profile than the IT sector”. And for those women who do decide to enter the IT profession, 56% of them have quit by the middle of their careers. Speaking at the ‘Monster’s Girls In Coding’ event last week Anne-Marie Imafidon, Founder of STEMettes, dubs this “the leaky pipeline” and thinks the industry’s male dominated culture has a lot to do with women dropping out at every available opportunity. If we don’t address the challenge of how to attract and retain female talent within technology, we simply won’t be able to close the job gap.
Changing the way girls’ view IT is a key part in counteracting this deficit. In 2014, only one girl in ten chose to study computer science at school, according to the Department for Education. Debbie Forster, joint CEO of the charity Apps for Good, said: “Girls don’t make active career choices at age 10 to 14, but they do say ‘ooh, I don’t like that’ and start ruling things out, often based on stereotypes. So we need to get them as young as 10 to make a difference.” Amelia Humphries founder of Steer, draws parallels between the toys girls and boys are given and their career choices, explaining: “boys’ toys tend to be around making things, but when we look at the toys that we give girls it tends to be around being a Princess, being beautiful, being kind”. Anne-Marie Imafidon remarks: “It’s not a female thing to tinker, to build, to be creative in that way”.
Systems are starting to take shape though. There are of course the large nationwide programs, such a coding now being taught in schools and the BBC’s “Get Digital” campaign, but there are also specific female-targeted programs. Code First Girls, is a social enterprise that offers free coding courses to girls at University or who have recently left, and STEMettes runs a range of hackathons, summer courses and events for girls aged between 10-18. Debbie Foster points out however that: “It’s also a case of getting the right role models and rebranding tech so that it appeals to girls.”
This doesn’t necessarily mean ‘pinkifying’ technology, though it’s fine if girls are drawn to this aspect of it, more it’s to redefine it away from the ‘men working in a basement’ stereotype. Coding as a career is highly creative and sociable, it allows you to travel and shape the world. It’s an undersubscribed, increasingly growing and hugely lucrative industry. Interestingly as well, the tech sector has one of the lowest pay gaps between male and female staff of any industry, with women working in science, technology, engineering or maths (STEM) careers earning, on average, 30% more than those in non-STEM areas.
In the short term however it’s down to tech corporations to unlock the potential of female talent. The online recruitment site Monster.co.uk held a specific ‘Girls in Coding’ event with the aim of highlighting these issues. They called on the recruitment industry to join them in forging a ‘Tech Talent Charter’ to help get more women into technology, IT and coding roles. Speaking at the event Alexa Glick, diversity program manager at Microsoft, said that tech companies need to broaden the way they recruit people: “It’s looking a bit further afield than you have been…they may not come from a typical computer science background.”
It seems that even down to the simple way job adverts are written will impact whether women apply for a position. Amali de Alwis, who runs Code First Girls, noted: “On a lot of company websites, the pictures will be of men and they’ll recruit for ‘ninjas’. So there’s work to be done on how they present themselves.”
It seems that through a combination of initiatives, raising awareness and getting girls onboard whilst still at school we will ensure that technology that is meant for all, is built by all.
Georgie Barrat is technology presenter & journalist. She writes regularly about tech for Marie Claire, Huffington Post and runs the site hash-tech.co.uk. She has worked on camera for a number of tech brands including HP, EE, Sony, Asus & Motorola as well as presenting on ‘The Wright Stuff’ and London Live. For all the latest make sure you follow her on twitter @georgiebarrat or check her out in action here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AaJwSrOhfUI