From Uber's bumps in the road to the furore over Google’s diversity gaff, the gender gap in tech continues to grab the headlines - but the good news is, it’s a bug that can be fixed.
Here in Scotland, getting girls and women into tech is critical. Why? Because it is an important factor in ensuring that Scotland’s digital economy remains globally competitive.
The Scottish Government recognises digital as one of the country’s eight growth industries and the demand for skilled professionals is continuing to soar as it’s estimated that we require around 12,800 new entrants into the sector each year.
Encouraging more women to enter tech will do so much more than just increase the pool of talent available to employers. It will help lift the overall skills standard and improve development rates. Furthermore, research suggests that gender equality in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) would add over £170 million annually to the country’s economy.
A report commissioned by Skills Development Scotland called Tackling The Gender Technology Gap Together (TTGGT) recently revealed that the gender issue affects the entire pipeline of female talent from start to finish, manifesting itself in young girls from as early as primary school and continuing right through and into the workplace.
Only 20 per cent of young girls in Scotland are studying National 5 Computing Science at school, 17 per cent go on to take this subject at Higher level and 13 per cent at Advanced Higher. Only 16 per cent of young women pursue the subject at University. Things need to change.
So how can we encourage more women to kick-start a career in Scotland’s thriving tech industry? This may look like a negative position but research shows there is prime opportunity to engage females in technology study and careers. The public and private sector are taking practical steps to tackle the gender gap.
One of the most effective ways to inspire young girls is to raise awareness of the career opportunities available to them. Taking digital out of the classroom via extracurricular activities has proven to be a successful way of getting girls engaged, as well as helping to broaden their digital horizons. Initiatives like Apps for Good and CodeClub are having an extremely positive impact on girls considering studying STEM subjects in school and beyond.
Skills Development Scotland, Education Scotland and the Digital Skills Technology Group, amongst others, are playing a significant part in increasing the confidence of young girls in Computer Science. The introduction of digital resource packs are allowing teachers to bring tech into the classroom by incorporating digital into non-tech school subjects like history. These resources focus on the creative and collaborative aspects of logical thinking and coding, for example, ‘Mary Queen of Bots’ uses the Kodu platform to create a game based around real events from the reign of Mary Queen of Scots.
Encouraging more girls to enter digital is not just about changing what’s taught in the classroom. As key influencers of young people, parents must be helped to understand and be made aware of the kinds of careers their children can have in digital. It’s crucial that industry and education work closely to educate parents about these exciting opportunities.
The TTGGT report also identified the value of female role models and mentors as an important means of helping young girls to envisage a career in the sector, particularly so if they are inspirational, credible and girls can relate to them. Role models and mentors are a valuable way of helping girls to identify with technology related subjects and careers.
As well as sharing their own inspiring success stories, female mentors and role models can highlight the range of different routes into the workplace, such as Foundation, Modern and Graduate Level Apprenticeships, as well as the increased breadth of exciting college and university courses in new areas such as Cyber Security, Data Analytics and AI (Artificial Intelligence).
While it is essential that we engage and inspire more young girls at an early age to encourage them to enter digital, it is also incredibly important to raise awareness of the potential of the sector to women at all other levels too. This is where industry has a role to play.
Following the release of the TTGGT report, the Digital Technologies Skills Group in partnership with industry and Equate Scotland created a ‘Best Practice Guide’ for employers to help them attract, recruit and retrain more women into their tech workforce. Filled with everything an employer needs to take action, this guide is for those keen to increase the gender diversity of their workforce to the benefit of their business.
The guide offers practical advice on how employers can introduce various changes to the workplace and practices, including offering flexible working, investing in the professional development of female staff and actively supporting women within the company.
Research has also revealed that female role models and mentors don’t just have a positive effect on young girls, they were also revealed to be very effective for women in the workplace as they can help boost confidence and can have positive effects on retention rates.
A more equal balance of women and men in the workplace introduces different perspectives, ideas and leadership styles, and helps to foster a culture of mutual learning while creating an all-round inclusive, attractive workplace.
As we continue to live in a world where technology is rapidly evolving, it’s vital that we all play our part in ensuring that Scotland’s digital industry continues to soar. Welcoming more diversity into the workplace can help us achieve precisely that.
Keen to take on the gender challenge? Find out more in the TTGGT Best Practice Guide here: http://www.equatescotland.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/bestpracticeguide.pdf
Claire Gillespie, key sector manager for ICT and digital skills at Skills Development Scotland.