The tech sector needs women. This isn’t a question of political correctness; tech businesses must have diversity at all levels to stay creative and innovative. In addition, women are of course huge consumers of technology products and services, so it makes sense that technology organisations should develop female talent.
Ultimately, without women, the UK’s impressive tech sector won’t continue to grow and the UK’s economy, of which tech is core, will falter.
But tech has a serious image problem. The sector can seem inaccessible, difficult or even plain dull.
Stereotypes of geeky men abound – think of the Big Bang Theory, Social Network, Mr Robot... the list goes on. It’s no surprise that many girls and young women just can’t see themselves in tech.
This is a real issue. Although we’ve made some progress in increasing the number of women in tech in recent years, they still represent less than 13 per cent of the industry. And more worrying, there’s a serious shortage of girls taking STEM subjects at school and university – which limits the pipeline of talent for tech companies in the future.
We must make STEM subjects and careers more appealing to girls. Role models are vital for showcasing what careers in tech can offer. Real women are of course important – but fictional role models can be just as influential. Media can play a significant part in creating a positive image.
At the moment, the most prominent female scientist on TV is Amy Farrah Fowler, Sheldon Cooper’s long-suffering girlfriend on the Big Bang Theory. Although Amy is presented sympathetically, she is not exactly a mainstream aspirational figure. Through her eccentricity and awkwardness, for many girls Amy could in fact reinforce stereotypes about the sort of woman who has a career in tech.
We need a new tech heroine.
Think of what the Good Wife has done for the legal profession. Lead character Alicia Florrick is smart, funny and strong, taking on fascinating legal cases and generally kicking butt in the courtroom.
Imagine a programme at a fast-paced tech start up with a feisty female lead, taking on new tech challenges and solving the world’s key issues. This would go a long way towards dispelling cultural myths about what technology entrepreneurs, engineers and programmers actually do – and who they are.
The IT and technology industry is exciting, dynamic and creative, and offers truly fantastic careers for women. Tech is coming to influence every area of our lives, so it’s never been more important to have women in this sector. Technology is all pervasive and impacts every sector.
The UK needs an outstanding female role model – so that girls can speak to their parents and career advisors and say:
“I want to be like her.”