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The lack of women in tech STEMs from a lack of education

by Staff GBAF Publications Ltd
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051 - Entrepreneur Tribune | Entrepreneur | TechnologyBy Amy Moore, Senior Marketing Manager at develop, a leading recruiter to the software engineering community. 

There aren’t enough women working in technology. More to the point, there aren’t enough girls who are encouraged to pursue a career in technology from a young age.

Unfortunately, diversity of teams in tech has been woefully lacking across the sector since its inception. There are a range of reasons, from the perception of the industry, poor education about the roles that are available and a lack of representative role models, to more troubling issues like gender discrimination, toxic cultures, and the pay gap.

Indeed, the number of tech employees who are female is dropping, in stark contrast with the booming industry. Just look at global cloud computing as an example of a thriving marketplace and one of the world’s fastest growing. Valued at around £350 billion in 2021, this figure is set to grow by more than 20 per cent in a single year and threefold by the end of the decade.

Demand is increasing for those with relevant expertise but not enough is being done to encourage a more diverse take-up of STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) from the outset. Research shows that around 80 per cent of boys explore STEM subjects past GCSE, while only around a third of girls follow suit. The drop off is even worse at university, where female uptake is as low as 25 per cent, and afterwards; women account for only 19 per cent of roles in tech and one in ten of the sector’s leaders.

Looking at things at an even earlier stage, young girls fear that STEM classes will be full of boys and this is a major hindrance to creating diverse teams in professional settings. A lack of resources also contributes to children not being aware of their options in their formative years.

The benefits to businesses

The continued advancement of the tech sector will depend on a more diverse workforce because of the benefits that diversity brings. These are well-known, including improved creativity and problem solving, broader perspectives and more ideas brought to the table, great knowledge-sharing, and more informed and considered decisions. Ultimately, diversity improves performance and a company’s bottom line always benefits.

The thing is, businesses are aware of this, and employees are too; 83 per cent of Gen Z job candidates said that a company’s commitment to diversity and inclusion is important when choosing an employer. But still, not enough is being done to bridge the gender gap faced by children.

That’s why develop has partnered with a local primary school to directly support the STEM education of its pupils. We’ve pledged £25 to Canon Barnett Primary School, in Tower Hamlets, for every placement made in our 2022/23 financial year. This has already prompted a donation of £5,500, following a highly successful Q1 for the business.

But making a difference is more than simply throwing money at a problem, which is why develop is offering the school its expertise in the sector and advising on the best way to invest the money. In particular, STEM-focused learning platforms, equipment and toys will directly impact the prospects of the pupils by teaching them the foundations of these crucial subject. Coding robots, pocket-sized coding computers, programmable accessories and activity sets will give these young children – girls among them – an early insight into the beginnings of coding, the more complex realms of AI, and more. These resources and toys will also give them an idea of the variety of careers that are available to them in the future.

The benefits to individuals

It is crucial young girls aren’t put off by the prospect of a career in the sector because, as the sector burgeons, the career opportunities in tech are endless. Just look at roles in software development; a growing field in which demand for expertise is increasing, meaning the number of vacancies is far greater than the number of candidates. This puts the power firmly in the hands of job candidates and those with the right experience can command high salaries. There are plenty of routes to entry and you don’t necessarily need a degree to secure a role.

Aside from a remuneration appropriate to the level of skill required, working in tech offers tremendous flexibility. The online nature of the sector allows for remarkably easy remote working options and the ability to fit work around other responsibilities outside of the workplace.

What companies should be doing

A commitment to nurturing an inclusive environment and promoting equal opportunities won’t go unnoticed by staff and candidates. Even the language used on a company’s website can influence the talent coming into the sector if words and nuances lean towards a certain gender. While it may seem like a minor detail, this is the first stage in bringing a more diverse workforce through the door, so ensure your tone is as neutral as possible.

Companies should also consider their role ‘must-haves’ when hiring; job descriptions tend to have a prescribed list of required skills and experience. However, every skill you include in a job description is a barrier to entry. Avoid narrowing your talent pool by only listing what’s essential to the role.

Once you’ve hired talent into the business it’s important to have measures in place to retain candidates. Creating a culture of belonging is key; you want all employees to feel included, accepted and valued. Employees that feel valued will trust their employer and will be more motivated in their work. Working to individuals’ needs is another way to support talent, whether this is by offering flexible working, or enhanced parental leave.

It’s time

Far from stalling the growth of the tech industry – unlike other sectors – the COVID-19 pandemic thrust technology even more firmly into the spotlight as we became reliant on online ways of working. With that has come huge growth in job opportunities, so much so that tech roles now account for 15 per cent of all jobs in the UK.

As things stand, we don’t have the necessary skills across the workforce to meet the growing demands of the sector. Technological advancement is stalling due to these shortages and the solution lies in providing more women with the opportunities to immerse themselves in the exciting and expanding world of tech. The incentives are there, but they are so often poorly presented.

So, it’s time to improve education. It’s time to move past the perception of tech as a male industry. It’s time to put an end to gender discrimination. It’s time to make meaningful change for the good of the industry.