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Young women are much less likely than their male counterparts to pursue a career in technology, according to a new report published by Tech City UK.
Based on a survey of 1,000 young people, plus an analysis of more than 80,000 posts on the social media site Reddit, the report warns that women will continue to be under-represented in one of the fastest growing sectors of the British economy and their partial absence raises the spectre of skills shortages.
The Aspirations of the Young
Unlike many surveys that set out to take the pulse of employment trends and practices, The Tech Nation Talent Report – produced in association with recruiter, Hays Digital and Sheffield University focused on the views and aspirations of young people themselves rather than talking to prospective employers. And at a time when gender equality issues are sitting at the top of the news agenda, the findings are described by the researchers as “concerning.”
When asked about their future career ambitions, more than a third (36%) of the young men interviewed by the researchers said they aspired to work in technology, compared with just 13% of women.
It would be wrong to suggest that tech is seen as a ‘no go’ zone for young women. In fact, the report finds that it is the third most popular career avenue, behind the professions, such as law and accountancy, and the creative and design sector.
But what the researchers did capture was a certain lack of self-belief. Around for 45% of those taking part in the survey felt they didn’t have the skills to work in technology and 38% said they didn’t have the knowledge.
Attitudes among young males were markedly different. Among the 64% who said they aspired to work outside the technology sector, the most commonly given reason was that other industries were more appealing. All this feeds through to a huge gender imbalance. Tech City – which is soon to be rebranded Tech Nation – cites third-party research suggesting only 16% of people working in technology across Europe are women.
Looking ahead, the situation seems unlikely to improve. Drilling down to focus on the attitudes of the very youngest taking part in the report – 15-16-year-olds – 74% who want to work in the tech sector are male and just 26% female.
A Failure to Communicate
As Tech City sees it, the report reveals a failure, on the part of a diverse industry, to communicate with young women.
“It is clear that more must be done, both by the technology industry and in schools, to show young women that they are more than capable of excelling in this industry,” said George Windsor, senior insights manager at Tech City. “Diversity is crucial if we are to build world-beating technologies that can improve people’s lives.”
And without women coming into the technology workplace, the industry may well be facing increasingly acute skills shortages in the years ahead.
Clear and Present Skills Shortages
The problem is already clear and present. A British Chambers of Commerce report published in the summer of 2017, three in four British Businesses were at that time reporting a deficit in digital skills. The impact on businesses was on a spectrum running from mild to serious, but 21% reported a significant skills deficit, while 3% described the problem as critical.
The question is, of course, how does the tech industry encourage more women to join the workforce? George Windsor says an effort must be made to win over hearts and minds from school years onwards.
“It is clear that more must be done, both by the technology industry and in schools, to show young women that they are more than capable of excelling in this industry. This needs to start at primary school; by age 15, girls already doubt their abilities,” he said.
A Different Culture
That’s a view endorsed by Renee La Londe, founder of IT consultancy ITalent Digital, which last year chose London as its European Hub. La Londe says her own life was changed when her mother sent her on a coding course at the age of 13. Today her company sponsors a leadership academy which offers tech skills training. “We offer it to 8-12-year-olds,” she says. “We teach coding and how to build a business plan.”
Meanwhile, La Londe has built a “female and minority-owned” tech business in which 54% of employees are women. She sees it as important to encourage female staff to take on not only technical but also leadership roles. She believes that a cultural shift is vital across the IT/Digital industry if more women are to come on board.
“I look at the IT landscape and I see that women feel isolated. I want to change that landscape,” she says.
Rav Bumbra, founder of structur3dpeople – a company that connects women with tech industry careers – says companies should look at new ways to access female talent.
“Collaborating with organisations that have specific access to the female talent pool will address the challenges that businesses face when trying to attract diversity into the workplace,” she says. “There is a huge pool of people who want to change careers or are looking to return to work after a career break and this pool has largely remained untapped. Structuring a set of activities, including the development of skills, would allow these people into the tech workforce.”
The Tech City report notes that role models are important. If women on the outside of the industry can see their counterparts on the inside enjoying success and respect they are much more likely to feel inspired to gain the necessary skills. And on that front, George Windsor expressed optimism.
“As the technology industry itself becomes more diverse, attracting more female entrepreneurs, coders, engineers, and investors, there are more and more role models for young women to aspire to,” he said.
The gender diversification of tech is, however, a work in progress. For instance, according to the UK Business Angels Association, female investors are much more likely to back female founders of tech and other companies. Research by the organisation founded that 54% of women had put money into at least one company headed by a female entrepreneur, but only a handful of male investors could say the same. And UKBAA CEO Jenny Tooth says there aren’t enough female business angels.
“There is massive underrepresentation,” she says. “Only 15% of angels are women.” It’s a balance that the UKBAA is seeking to redress.
Tech is seen as a rewarding profession, but unless action is taken to inspire young women early and provide role models, the industry may continue to lose out on the skills of one half of the population.