How schools/education can help to improve gender diversity in tech
Given that the first computer programmer in history was a woman, today’s tech sector has room for improvement when it comes to gender diversity.
The number of women taking computing degree courses has flatlined over the last decade, accounting for 14% of the total in 2010 and 13% in 2014; while just 15% of computer science graduates in 2016-2017 were women
It’s perhaps no surprise that 48% believe there is a low level of gender diversity in their local tech ecosystem. But for change to happen, it has to start at the grassroots – and attitudes need to be shifted.
When PwC polled female students, it found that only 27% said they would consider a career in tech; 16% said they had never been encouraged to enter the industry; and 78% couldn’t name a single well-known woman in tech.
Mentors and champions
Sophie Devonshire, CEO of The Caffeine Partnership, comments, “We cannot be what we cannot see.” To encourage teenage girls to get into the sector, the wider community (from business to government to education) needs to champion female role models. Tech leaders don’t just look like Steve Wozniak or Steve Jobs – but they can also look like Martha Lane Fox and Sarah Wood.
Being able to contact female mentors can give young women access to another kind of champion and is a key step that schools can enable. Mentors directly prove that success in the field is possible. More importantly, they can offer informed guidance and advice – and hence accelerate their mentee’s progress through education and placements and into industry roles.
It’s important to challenge stereotypes at an early stage as well. “If girls are given play kitchens and dolls while it is the boys receiving [cognitively educational toys like Lego sets, gaming consoles and science kits], and we combine this with a fundamental lack of confidence at a young age between girls and boys, we then enter a situation where some girls are too scared to enjoy STEM subjects or are too afraid to make mistakes and fail because they feel they have to prove themselves more to be considered equal to boys,” notes Jo Baptista, winner of the Young Star Award at the Women of the Future Awards.
Jo also emphasizes the important role that schools can play in teaching skills over software (teaching coding rather than Excel); and the fact that computer science can be an exciting subject in its own right as well as being a path to employment.
Yet, there’s a great deal that organisations need to do to drive change. Businesses that want to find the best candidates available should pursue gender neutral language in job ads, they should tackle unconscious bias in hiring, and they should seek to root out prejudice and discrimination across their operations. Taking these steps can make a difference by creating a more welcoming workplace for everyone.
And schools can embrace this. By collaborating with businesses that advocate these practices; by identifying and highlighting relevant placements and internships; and by connecting with and championing female role models, they can help to create a clear path into tech for young women.
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