Why targeting secondary schools is too late to encourage more women in tech

Deloitte predicts that large global technology organisations, on average, will reach nearly 33% of female representation in their workforces in 2022, up just over two percentage points from 2019

However, women are still vastly underrepresented in IT professional and leadership roles across the globe, with only 12% holding these types of positions.

The benefit of women in technology is clear. According to a study by Boston Consulting Group (BCG), increasing the diversity of leadership teams leads to more and better innovation as well as improved financial performance. But, despite an increased focus from governments and technology companies to encourage more women of secondary school age to take computer science, progress is slow. In the UK, the number of girls choosing to take GCSE computer science fell to 16,549 in 2021. Whereas in France, boys and men are more than twice as likely to graduate high school in STEM subjects than girls and women.

While the main focus has been on influencing girls at a secondary school level, this is arguably too late. Girls start to learn gender bias as young as three or four years, then by the time they get to primary school, they’re already changing their behaviour to conform to pressure from gender stereotypes.

Impact of gender bias

Gender bias typically encourages boys to be more adventurous and technical and girls to be more careful and creative. These are often formed as a result of the toys they play with, the books they read and the TV shows they watch, as well as influence from adult role models. Together these influences reinforce gender stereotypes in a subtle and nuanced way, encouraging girls to think that some activities are for boys and some are for girls.

While this disjointed thinking may seem innocent at a young age, as girls grow up, this limiting self-belief has a huge impact on the way they understand themselves, the choices they make and how they behave in society. As these early stereotypes shape their outlook for life, addressing them at a young age is critical if we have any hope of influencing the career choices they make.

Change how technology is taught at school

To help girls believe that technology is not just for boys, we need to encourage and inspire them at primary school age. One way to do that is to change how technology is taught at school. While national curriculums embed technology within STEM subjects, it should instead underpin the whole curriculum. This opens up the possibility of technology in creative subjects like music, history and art, as opposed to just being confined to more logical and analytical subjects.

Girls also need to be exposed to activities such as after school coding classes to learn new skills in an interactive and dynamic environment, because ultimately “you can’t be what you can’t see.” They need also strong female role models like parents, teachers and mentors using the right language and exhibiting the right behaviours to debunk the myth that technology is just for boys.

But it shouldn’t just be up to schools to create more technology initiatives. To equip girls with the right skills and mindset and provide them with the confidence to consider technology as a future career option, we need more support from the industry. More companies should invest time in doing school talks and events to demonstrate to our children how technology is impacting our lives, and how each of us can have access to it and use it in our day-to-day life. Drones, Artificial Intelligence and IoT technologies should be perceived as accessible, and we should strongly focus on articulating to the younger generation how these are concretely helping our society as well as the environment, for example.

A future of more women in tech

More women in the workforce create diverse thinking which leads to better problem-solving and more women in corporate leadership roles leads to increased revenue. But if we’re to successfully encourage more women into choosing careers in technology, we need to address gender bias at a grassroots level. Breaking down the barriers cannot start as late as secondary school or university and by the time women get to the working environment, it’s too late.

Girls need to be encouraged at primary school age. They need to feel empowered to make choices without feeling societal pressures and they need to be exposed to the exciting and limitless opportunities technology offers. But to achieve this, we need more technology companies to partner with schools to excite and inspire the next generation of women. Only then do we have any chance of encouraging more women into technology careers.

About the Author

Marie-Pierre Civiel is Country Head France & Benelux at Larsen & Toubro Infotech (LTI). LTI is a global technology consulting and digital solutions Company helping more than 495 clients succeed in a converging world. With operations in 33 countries, we go the extra mile to assist our clients and accelerate their digital transformation journeys. Founded in 1997 as a subsidiary of Larsen & Toubro Limited, our unique heritage gives us unrivalled real-world expertise to solve the most complex challenges of enterprises across all industries.

Featured image: ©ImagesRouges