International Girls in ICT Day is celebrated tomorrow, on Thursday, April 27, and it aims to encourage more girls and young women to pursue STEM education. Here, four women who have reached the top explain why they think it’s a great career.
Natalie Cramp, CEO of data consultancy Profusion on bridging the ICT gap:
Digital transformation is everywhere as technology continues to become intertwined into the fabric of our everyday lives, changing how we work, how we play, how we socialise. It is therefore an area that offers hugely exciting, lucrative career possibilities, especially for the next generation. Yet tech’s gender gap remains stubbornly high. The underrepresentation of women in these industries is fuelling the UK’s skills gap and holding back innovation and growth – they are a huge potential resource for the country.
The current approach simply isn’t working and we must delve deeper to find out why. A common belief is that the origin of the gender gap can be found in the classroom, gender stereotypes are formed as young as seven. Girls are discouraged from entering what are perceived to be more male-dominated occupations and therefore less inclined to enroll in more technical subjects. While this is slowly changing, with more girls taking computing A-levels than ever, they are still largely outnumbered and far less likely to proceed into an ICT-based profession.
The reality is that people make career choices, often without knowing it, at a very young age. When they choose their GCSE subjects they can end up closing the door on a whole raft of professions. At the moment, we know that girls are being put off taking subjects like maths or IT which means pursuing a career in ICT is much harder. We need to be more proactive in educating young people on what each subject means for their future professional options. To achieve this teachers and parents need to know in much greater detail what career options are out there and send the message that professions do not have a gender identity. Ideally, we should have much more investment in career advice which should start at an earlier age.
We all need to do our bit and commit time to working in partnership with schools and colleges and providing positive role models in this area. This means we also need to think laterally and attract more women to the profession later in their career, hiring for transferable skills and experience and teaching the industry. If we do not improve the workforce we have, we won’t have those to inspire the next generation. There is well-documented evidence that relatable role models make a big difference to subject and career choices.
Grete Ling, Head of Growth at marketing and analytics platform App Radar, gives top her tips for girls to excel in a career in tech:
If you’re coming from Marketing and Sales, then understanding Product development and its processes is a must so that you’re able to speak the same language. Do everything you can to not be the roadblock but rather bridge builder between the different worlds to align faster to move things.
The tech industry by its very nature is always evolving, that means you need to keep learning. As soon as you stop you can fall behind quickly. Unlike other industries, there’s less of a stigma around trying and failing. Startups close all the time, so you shouldn’t fear taking risks. The community is also generally very supportive.
Building a network of contacts in different tech subsectors and with people who have different roles is also a must to develop your career. You can learn from what they are doing, share experiences and also showcase what you know. It also means that if you’re currently in a position that doesn’t suit you or you’re ready for a change, your network can really help you find your next challenge.
Lydia Kothmeier, Vice President of Operations at enterprise tech Storyblok on curating a culture of equality in ICT
It’s really important that ICT businesses go beyond viewing gender equality and the wider diversity mandate as just another corporate box to be ticked. The reality is that it’s much bigger than that. It’s about breaking age-old biases and barriers and creating a place where every single person – be it male or female – feels equally valued, included and heard, but also giving everyone equal opportunities to succeed. For example, it doesn’t matter if we have a part-time or full-time team member or a young woman that just entered the workforce. We want to give them the chance to grow at Storyblok, involve them in interesting projects and ensure they are part of our story. Everyone is welcome to come up with suggestions, take over responsibilities or lead a team.
For us, the right attitude and experience is much more important than working hours. Excitement, passion and curiosity isn’t something that can be quantified by figures or charts but must be lived and breathed from the top down. If your team senses a lack of authenticity, it’s likely that they will be less inclined to get on board and the impact of even the most comprehensive diversity strategy will fall to the wayside. In this way, it’s about curating a culture of equality that is not just part of your corporate strategy but deeply ingrained in your entire brand philosophy.
Sarah Gilchriest, President of Circus Street on gender imbalance in STEM
Despite receiving a lot of attention in recent years, the gender gap in STEM subjects remains high. Only around 35% of graduates are women – a figure that has remained largely unchanged for the past five years. When you break it down to subjects such as computer science and engineering and technology the statistics are even worse – 16% of graduates are women. The International Girls in ICT Day offers a chance to reflect on this underrepresentation and consider what more can be done to redress the balance.
The lack of girls taking on STEM subjects is cited as the number one reason there is such a gender imbalance in the UK’s tech industry. Only one in four people who work in the startup scene are women, with the number of female tech CEOs and founders depressingly low. There is an element of chicken and egg. How can young women and other underrepresented groups see themselves pursuing careers in tech or engineering if these industries look overwhelmingly male and white? On the other hand, how can we address diversity issues if there aren’t enough qualified people?
The lack of available women to staff these sorts of positions may well start in the classroom, with girls traditionally discouraged from entering what are perceived to be more ‘manly’ occupations and therefore less inclined to enrol in Science, Engineering, Technology and Maths (STEM) subjects. While this is slowly changing, it has impacted the ratio of females entering tech so far, for the reality is we all make incredibly important career choices, often without realising it, at a young age when we choose what subjects to study in school. So for me the answer starts at school, as we reframe how kids view STEM topics and allow these to be made more relevant, enlightening and engaging.
But it is also important that women already in their careers shouldn’t feel held back by these early decisions. It is important to remember that there is always a second chance to develop your path in the direction you want, through upskilling or reskilling. Through offering this opportunity to employees, businesses can help to improve diversity in the sector, and consequently encourage women and other underrepresented groups to study STEM subjects with a view to working in the tech industry.