Gender equality: Addressing the gender imbalance in tech has to start earlier - at school

Alex Depledge
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"Parents of girls are four times less likely to think that their child would be interested in an engineering career than parents of boys" (Source: Getty)

Last week, research by McKinsey Global Institute found that closing the gender pay gap could add $12tn (£7.8tn) to the global economy over the next decade. The equality of women in the workplace is no doubt of huge benefit to companies and society alike – but we aren’t taking the necessary steps to secure it.

It is clear that the gender pay gap will persist until we systematically encourage women from a young age to pursue careers that they otherwise wouldn’t consider. Much of the gender pay gap is down to women simply not holding enough roles in certain sectors. The gender imbalance in science and technology careers is particularly striking: despite recent pushes, only 14 per cent of technology jobs are held by women.

There are substantial business benefits to more women holding tech roles. Tech businesses with women at the helm have higher returns, perform better than all-male teams and are more likely to outperform industry averages.

Put simply, women in tech is good for business.

So what is stopping businesses hiring more women? Substantially, I think it is the lack of skilled applicants who are women. At my company, we took up to five months to hire engineers, and not one applicant was female. The discrepancy may be due to disinterested female STEM graduates, with less than half of them going into the sector than men. But I think the issue starts earlier than this.

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By the time female graduates have a STEM degree in their hands, they have already internalised our misguided expectations.

There is a clear lack of female role models in the industry and a societal trend towards encouraging boys over girls into engineering, maths and science.

Parents of girls are four times less likely to think that their child would be interested in an engineering career than parents of boys. We are discouraging girls from even considering STEM careers from a young age. The digital skills gap is evident with both men and women, and is going to hurt tech overall – there is a huge problem in the UK of us not generating enough young people of either gender with digital skills. The problem is just more acute with women.

The change must start at school. It’s about making girls aware that there is far more to STEM careers than they know. Working with young women for the recent BBC Girls Can Code series, it was clear that, despite their keen interest in using apps and other consumer tech, none of them had even heard of the types of careers available to them behind their favourite games or social media platforms.

It is not a lack of interest which prevents young women from aspiring to careers in the tech sector – it is a lack of education. These young women are simply not aware of how they can translate their interests and skills into careers that they will enjoy and flourish in. Schools, parents and even tech companies must make a concerted effort to educate young women about the types of careers available to them.

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There are numerous resources available to help in this endeavour. Organisations from the BBC to independent female networking initiatives are available to give information on the careers that are out there, as well as detail on applying for jobs, apprenticeships and training roles in the tech industry. Female focused coding workshops, seminars and online resources can help those with an interest understand how they can build the skills necessary to succeed. Tech companies themselves should make an effort to engage with young women at school, through visits or creating their own resources.

A dedication to educating young women about the STEM careers available to them is vital to address Silicon Roundabout’s gaping gender imbalance. We need the systematic implementation of help and encouragement in schools to inform young women about the options out there.

Doing so will make strides in improving the prospects for women in technology – and consequently for companies too.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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