How do we inspire the next generation of female techies?

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There are some amazing women in tech, but they unfortunately still remain a minority. Deloitte’s Technology, Media & Telecommunications Predictions for 2016 highlighting statistics showing that only 17% of UK computer science students are female and pointed to industry figures stating that only 18% of UK tech jobs are currently held by women. 

The technology sector is a long way from achieving gender equality, and this was one of the key issues discussed at the recent London Technology Week. A panel discussion, ‘Women in Tech: Inspiring the next generation’ focused on how the narrative needs to change to show to women that they have a future in the industry if it wants to attract more females to the technology sector.

The event included a screening of the documentary Code: Debugging the Gender Gap, which demonstrated how women are regularly marginalised in a male-dominated industry. This can often be linked to existing stereotypes reinforced through pop culture, such as dominant storylines in TV and movies that suggest men are better than women at computer science.To get more girls interested into choosing careers in tech the narrative needs to change to show that women have a future in the industry.

But tackling stereotypes is not only a cultural issue, it starts at home and in early education. Today, all children, girls, and boys alike, should receive tech education in primary school to enable them to get into coding and computer science early, develop their talents and leave stereotypes behind.

Later, in higher education, female students are looking for open learning environments, and colleges/universities can have a profound impact, with initiatives aimed at engaging and retaining more women in computer science programmes. While companies themselves need to do their part in supporting young professionals at the start of their careers with work experience schemes, internships, and mentorship. There are a number ongoing UK initiatives leading the way in helping women to develop their careers in technology such as Girls in Tech, Ada’s List, and Code First: Girls.

The industry also needs to broaden the picture of what a tech career looks like in the minds of students and young professionals. There are diverse career paths and plenty of opportunities in roles beyond the “coder” stereotype that are currently in high demand by start-ups and established tech businesses. The stories of underrepresented tech jobs are captured in the recent portrait project Techies out of Silicon Valley, which aims to inspire positive change through storytelling.

Female role models in tech need to participate in the public debate to show that the industry is not an exclusively male domain and to inspire a change in mindsets. In the panel discussion at the Women in Tech: Inspiring the next generation event Anjali Ramachandran, Co-Founder of Ada's List, talked about the importance of achieving better representation and visibility for women on industry bodies to act as role models and influence decision making. While Radhika Chadwick, Strategy Partner at EY London, highlighted that everyone can be a role model and inspire others, independent of position and level of experience: “Love what you do and show it.” 

Radhika Chadwick sees a big opportunity to interest more women in the tech sector, in looking at technology no longer as a definite career choice, but rather as a skill set that will open many career opportunities across a range of sectors in the future. The panel of influential female technologists called on hiring managers and companies to open their offices to women working in non-tech roles and to consider hiring on transferable skills and potential and train the needed tech skills on the job.

This discussion is not just a matter of gender inequality, attracting women into the technology sector matters for the economy. It would be a waste of potential and a loss for the tech industry if existing stereotypes would keep much-needed talent out of a growing industry. The sector needs to grow on inclusivity and diversity. The more diverse our tech companies, the broader their perspectives, the better their insights, which results in better products and services for us all and in thriving businesses. 

 

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