How can we drive gender diversity in the tech sector?
Women in tech attitudes are gradually shifting, with 47% of young women taking an interest in STEM. However, gender equality within tech still has room for improvement, with women only taking a small fraction of tech roles today and often work at lower wages than their male colleagues.
Actions to improve tech gender balance.
Getting girls interested in tech at any early stage is crucial and this can be achieved through relevant work experience. Allowing young women to (literally) get a foot in the door means they can see what tech workplaces are really like and get a sense of the industry. Such openings can make a critical difference, offering a new perspective as well as the chance for young women to make invaluable contacts with relevant employers.
Empiric’s Next Tech Girls initiative [https://www.empiric.com/nextechgirls/about-ntg/] has helped teens find placements with organisations like Vodafone, Comic Relief, Expedia and more. These placements have helped young women to develop web design and coding skills as well as getting a fuller understanding of the careers available. They have also helped direct individuals towards specialised education at Sixth Form-level and into relevant, technical careers.
Tech can offer some unique opportunities. As a generation, millennials particularly value flexibility in the workplace, whether that means remote working or flexible hours – and the tech sector is unusually well-placed to facilitate this.
“The story of what tech can do to enable a financially solvent and flexible life is important,” says Sophie Devonshire, CEO of The Caffeine Partnership. “Often teens talk about people encouraging them to go into law or accountancy or advertising as well-paid options, [but] these are careers which are less likely to give them options than tech.”
“[We need to] show not just what technology is but what it can do, [and] tell the stories of what it creates and the impact it has on people's lives,” she adds.
Jo Baptista, winner of the Young Star Award at the Women of the Future Awards 2017, agrees that schools should actively promote the opportunities afforded by the sector. “Schools should be encouraging girls to engage in the idea of building excitement and understanding for a subject through play, and then enforcing an ideal of equal opportunity, respect and voice in the classroom, so that no one feels they are inferior or will be judged upon,” she says.
It is important for schools to distinguish between teaching computer skills and introducing students to software packages, says Jo – with the former offering far more value than the latter. And these skills have the potential to be extremely powerful in later life. “Sometimes I think we can get carried away saying how STEM subjects are a building block for future careers, rather than embracing them as just pretty damn cool in their own right,” notes Jo.
Make change happen
Gender diversity is increasingly front-of-mind today, old-fashioned stereotypes are being thrown out. “Anyone in communications running events or publishing needs to be conscious of sharing female stories,” says Sophie. “We need to continue to highlight role models – those who love what they do.”
And the rewards of engaging with tech are substantial. “It takes a certain set of characteristics to be able to brave the weather of a male-oriented sector,” comments Jo. “Despite this, no woman should be put off joining an industry with higher male numbers than female.”
Looking ahead, one thing’s for certain: change is on the way.
Empiric’s Next Tech Girls initiative is directly aimed at addressing this issue and seeks to help school girls enter the sector. As well as championing female role models and matching young women with mentors, the initiative also helps to arrange work experience placements – and has the goal of getting 5,000 girls into placements by 2020.
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