We are living in a time of disruption and transformation, where technology is proving to be one of the fastest growing sectors in the global economy.
Yet, despite the incredible opportunities this sector offers, not enough women are pursuing technology as a career path and not enough girls are studying computer science at school.
While the number of women working in technology increased to 31% over the past year, studies show the gender diversity of UK technology leaders remains unchanged with only 10% women. This is disappointingly low, given that organisations with 30% female leaders see a 15% increase in profitability compared to those lacking female leadership. Not to mention the fact that inclusivity leads to better problem-solving as cognitively diverse groups find solutions faster than teams who are cognitively similar. And in an industry that is all too familiar with a fast-changing landscape – especially in COVID times – such responsiveness leaves companies better positioned to adapt quickly.
Getting more women into technology careers has never been more important to try and close the gender gap, but it’s the old-fashioned stereotypes that are hindering progress – with the most prevalent bias being that women are inherently less technically inclined. Where one may see working in technology as a lucrative career option, many young women see it as isolating, uncreative, and still an impenetrable boys club. Perhaps what’s most concerning is these stereotypes start as early as 7 years old and are hard to shake when entering secondary school.
So how can we bust these myths? And what can technology companies and the government do to encourage more women into technology?
Initiatives must start earlier
While arguably, the UK government and many technology companies are taking steps to encourage young women into technology, it’s not enough as just 21.4% of girls decided to study computer science GCSE in 2020. This can only mean one thing: that encouragement is not reaching those who need to hear it the most. The message needs to be shouted louder – and sooner – especially as the UK technology landscape has radically changed in the wake of Brexit and the pandemic, resulting in an even wider digital skills gap.
So, to make any meaningful change, we need to introduce technical skills, such as coding, to girls in primary schools to get ahead of the bias that technology is only for boys.
One way is to introduce after-school free coding clubs that get them excited about computer science, and tap into resources from programmes like Girls Who Code and our own coding clubs, so students can dive head first into computer science.
Tech companies should also invest time in outreach to primary schools, give office tours, and provide female role model meet-and-greets to inspire young girls about the possibilities of working in technology.
And finally, while extra-curricular activities are important, technology must be embedded across all subject areas at primary school. That way, every student not only learns digital fluency from an early age, but abolishes the misconception that technology is not relegated to a single gender after all.
Perspectives on both sides must change
But in all honesty, what good is introducing technology at an early age if those same girls are still coming up against the same battles we are fighting now?
Technology itself is a powerful force that shapes our day to day lives, and can be a tool to achieving gender parity in the sector itself – but only if technology leaders come together to commit to it.
It’s all too easy for a technology company to say they’re not able to hire a more diverse workforce because women are not interested. But it’s this kind of attitude that needs to be reversed from, “not my problem” to “let’s make it our problem.”
On the other side of the coin, is the prevailing misconception that a career in technology belongs to the navel-gazers and the uncreative, but it couldn’t be further from the truth.
If anything, technology has never been more about creativity and solving global problems than it is right now. To keep people connected in the past eighteen months, skilled technology workers had to find creative and empathetic solutions that made life easier during lockdowns where it mattered most.
While bridging the two sides might seem an impossible endeavour, changing the narrative must be at the forefront of organisations and school curriculums if we want to see any kind of change in the future and close the gender gap in technology for good.
Make change happen
Given the important role women play in the technology sector and the fact that the digital skills gap is growing by the day, the industry can ill afford to ignore the harmful stereotypes that are turning women away.
By engaging more girls at a primary school level, there is a great opportunity for companies and educators to work together to eradicate those myths and help build up girls for a bright future in technology. Only then do we have any hope of closing the gender diversity and digital skills gap and fulfilling our industry’s true potential.
About the Author
Arlene Bulfin is Director of People Development at UKFast. UKFast is one of the UK’s leading providers of cloud-led digital transformation technology and services. Covering private and public cloud, managed services and security, UKFast helps organisations across private and public sector accelerate their digital transformation securely and cost effectively. Our hosting solutions are designed to help businesses grow, with 24/7/365 support and dedicated account management as standard. We fully-own, manage and operate our carbon-neutral data centre complex.
Featured image: ©Jacob Ammeenorp