Women in Technology – why is there a skills gap?
Sadly, in technology, women are woefully underrepresented. But in the last few years there has been mounting pressure for more effort to encourage girls to consider the possibilities of a career in technology.
The suggested reasons for the deficit are numerous – a lack of early years’ exposure to technology, the vocabulary used by education professionals, pay divides and career packages that don’t support women in the way they do men, and even a pure and simple lack of talent amongst women.
From classroom to boardroom
Whatever it is, it seems clear that we need to first identify where the crucial decision making milestones are, so we can tackle the bias before girls have made up their mind. That means talking to girls as early as possible to communicate the opportunities that a tech career could bring. It stands to reason that if we have more women entering technology-based careers, the imbalances or perceived challenges to women in these sorts of careers will eventually even out.
The first time children are asked to make any sort of decision about their future is when they select their GCSE’s, so we have to do more before this milestone to encourage them to see tech as a viable option. That means supporting teaching staff who are working with children from age 11 and up, so that they become as confident discussing tech careers with girls, as they are with boys. It also means creating initiatives which showcase tech careers earlier, and use female role models to illustrate how suitable a tech career is for either gender.
Next we need to look at the number of girls choosing a STEM subject at A Level (Science, Technology, Engineering or Mathematics). This seems to be the time that many girls move away from seeing tech as an option, and more research needs to be done to understand why. Ultimately, the more girls choosing STEM subjects at A Level, the more we’d expect to filter through to tech careers, so addressing girl’s concerns, fears and worries at this stage is pivotal to giving more girls the confidence to pursue these areas at both A Level and degree level.
No talent or just a bad attitude?
Up until now perhaps we have been convinced that the UK simply doesn’t have the right talent to plug this seemingly large skills gap. But rather than trying to find the answer abroad, perhaps what’s really needed is a change in attitude at home. Changing how we see digital and technical roles, and changing the stale way of thinking that has dominated the technology industry for so long is one way forward. A good starting point would be to see more female role models being used in strong tech roles, whether it’s in fictitious sci-fi dramas, or actually in the lab.
After all, women have had a place in technology as far back as the 19th century, starting with Ada Lovelace and continuing with Bletchley Park during the Second World War. Women have always been there making a silent but significant difference to the world of science and technology. We need to take those stories and use them to inspire the next generation, no matter what their gender.
Thankfully, it would appear that there are initiatives around the country that have been set up to encourage more women to enter technology, which are supported by both not-for-profit-organisations and the NHS in England. It is hoped the role of women working in tech will be boosted and provide networks where both professional and personal development is available
In addition, projects like the WISE campaign are fighting hard to change the way we think about technology careers, and are providing girls with the information they need to make an informed choice at an earlier age.
Change the thinking, change the landscape of technology
As IT recruiters we believe it’s our job to help women return to technology roles once they’ve left, as this is another area that we lose many women from tech careers. Technology is a still a male dominated sector, so taking a year out can be enough to knock a woman’s confidence and result in her never returning. To support women in this position it is important that the benefits packages on offer are fair and allow women to have a good work/life balance.
Filling the technology skills gap is a challenging and long-term project, but it is not impossible. By championing the sector as one that is as equally open to women as it is to men, by showcasing more female mentors, and reaching girls at a younger age, we will undoubtedly start to close the gap. And closing the gap is absolutely essential if we want to see the UK’s technology sector truly start to compete on the world’s stage.