Can bridging the gulf between schools and businesses impact the gender divide in IT?
Posted on 21st July 2021 at 09:59
Despite steady growth of women taking a broad range of STEM roles in recent years, the proportion of professional females working in tech roles specifically has consistently plateaued at around 16% over the last decade.
The Learning & Work Institute has warned that the UK is heading towards a catastrophic digital skills shortage disaster, and WorldSkills UK says that a lack of understanding and guidance about potential career paths within schools is a key reason behind the growing numbers of young people, particularly girls, shunning IT and computing GCSEs.
The issues aren’t new and the conversations within the business communities have been ongoing, but we believe we need to broaden that conversation. Therefore, to drive positive action towards addressing the tech gender divide, Iridium has launched a campaign to create a bridge between industry and schools.
Kicking off our campaign with a round table
To set the foundation of our campaign, we recently hosted a round table event to bring together representatives from tech businesses, IT recruiters, HR leads, women who have already made that step into IT, academic STEM researchers and school careers advisors, to gain insights into the reasons why young women are steering (or being steered away) from careers in tech.
Claire Garside, CLO and Education Researcher (Computing, EdTech and STEM) at University of Leeds, kicked things off by explaining how young people develop their careers aspirations at the age of 10, and why it’s important that teachers work with students up until the age of 18 to inform, embed and support in achieving their goals. However, Claire went on to question: “How much do teachers know about the workplace, and can educators working with people in industry help?”
What Inspired those women who make up that 16% of the IT workforce?
Sophie Dimelow, Microsoft Cloud Specialist at Pure Technology Group, talked through her own personal experience as a woman breaking into tech, describing how school was ill informed to support her journey to an IT career, despite having the perfect skills.
Sophie said: “I attended a careers fair at University and I spoke to a woman who worked for an IT recruitment organisation. We automatically clicked; she had a bubbly personality, like myself, and it turned out that she was the Director. Because the company had shown the success of women within the business and had marketed themselves in that way, it immediately made me feel welcome and somewhere I would want to work. Even though I didn’t know anything about IT or recruitment at that time, sharing her journey and success made me believe I could do that.
“I don’t feel school played any part in my journey to IT. I was never told as a young girl to go down the route of IT, and it actually surprises me now looking back how much people would steer away from educating me about it. Other subjects, like sport, wanted women to get involved, but I don’t think schools teach IT in the right way. You’re never told about the exciting roles there are within IT, and I don’t think they open students eyes to the world of IT.”
Are the school curriculums making a positive impact?
But why is this still the case? Lynn McSeveney, Director of Talent at Vanquis Bank, shared her thoughts: “The curriculum is very traditional, and nothing within it really brings the ‘new world’ of work, AKA IT, into fruition. We need to educate families and the school system about the full scope of the careers available. My daughter is the only girl in her year completing a computing GCSE - I feel there’s a lost generation of understanding that IT can be an exciting and rewarding career.”
Zoe Watson, Talent Acquisition at A-Safe, added: “Schools don’t seem to talk about roles in IT that embrace female characteristics. Project managers, delivery leads, technical writers - there are so many exciting digital roles beyond coding that can attract different skill sets and personality types, but teachers don’t appear to know this.”
Nicky Mikulla, Client Solutions Manager at Iridium, commented: “A diverse range of roles require a diverse range of people. IT moves at a pace, we demand talent, but as an industry we must feedback what that talent is. The key to this, I believe, is by role modeling, and giving all young people access to a range of successful people in IT that they can relate to.”
Ameena Ahsan Pirbhai, Technical Writer & Trainer consulting at Vanquis Bank, agreed: “Role models are critical. I grew up around people who worked in IT, who gave me the insights and confidence to pursue a career that’s included working at Sky, Vocalink (a Mastercard company), Discovery/Eurosport, BT, and BNP Paribas. I didn’t need to study Computer Science to do this. IT needs people with all the skills you could think of, arts, humanities, sciences and computing.”
Sophie also believes stereotyping must be addressed: “I think the stereotype around IT is an issue in schools. During school, if you were really sociable and outspoken, or if you were interested in drama or sport, you were never really told about IT - when in fact, IT can work with anything and I think it should be seen as a cool, successful thing to do.
“I was lucky because I have worked for organisations that are advocates of women in tech, and I am seeing a lot of other businesses now showcasing the successes of their women employees, with many businesses even having Women in Tech teams”.
When asked what advice she would offer young women considering a career in IT, Sophie said: “Don’t be afraid to share your opinions. You are just as important as any male working within IT, and until we realise this, I think it will always be a male dominated industry. If you’re interested in IT, then businesses will want you, so go for it.”
Our conclusions will be the basis to our new campaign … exciting times.
The conclusion of the round table was that role modeling is critical - not just for pupils, but the teachers themselves - for highlighting, in real life, just how broad the opportunities in the exciting and fast paced world of IT really are.
Ben Dainton, Iridium’s Co-Founder and Director adds: “As a business, we rely on strong IT talent to deliver optimum services for our clients. Our network is made up of many strong individuals, men and women, but we’d love to see more females amongst our associates.
“Industry has a responsibility to support, guide and act in redressing the balance, which is exactly what we intend to do. Watch this space.”
Thank you to the following people for taking part in our initial round table event and taking the time to share the benefit of their experience and professional insights:
Joanna Durians, Careers Officer at Bingley Grammar School
Claire Garside, CLO and Education Researcher (Computing, EdTech and STEM) at University of Leeds
Ameena Ahsan Pirbhai, Technical Writer & Trainer at Vanquis Bank (IT consultant)
Sophie Dimelow, Microsoft Cloud Specialist at Pure Technology Group
Jessica Roberts, HR Services Lead at A-Safe
Yoganandhini Shanmugam, Mobile Automation Test Engineer
Zoe Watson, Talent Acquisition at A-Safe
Lynn McSeveney, Director of Talent at Vanquis Bank
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