Getting more women into tech is essential to the industry’s future

 

Information technology and high tech used to be a niche industry, off on its own, free to develop independently from the rest of the world. Its success during the past 20 years means IT and high tech now have become an integral part of most businesses, with large firms often having their own IT department or division and smaller firms utilising applications in 'the cloud'.

Now that IT has become integrated with the rest of the world, it is imperative that we provide opportunities for that world and better reflect it. That will be essential for not just our growth but our survival.

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This means preparing and nurturing more young people in the field and, particularly, more women. The long-awaited economic recovery is beginning to force this issue upon us earlier and more urgently than many of us may have liked. The simple fact is demand for labour is far exceeding the supply. The situation isn’t going to improve unless we as an industry act now.

Government initiatives and schemes are good as far as they go but they simply won’t be enough. Private businesses must take lead in training and mentoring more young people for careers in the IT field, especially women.

This might seem relatively easy given the number of women in the workforce but a distressingly small number of them are choosing IT as a career. Developing economies such as China and India have done much better when it comes to attracting women into the IT industry.

I have advocated hiring more women for years, it has been one of my priorities. However, I never have enough applicants for all the IT positions I want to fill.

I started ANS’s Cloud Academy in the summer of 2013 with the express purpose of getting more young people into the IT field. Industry leaders provide IT training for 60 apprentices annually, with at least five new recruits joining each month. Yet since its creation I have hosted just ten young women compared to more than one hundred young men.

The problem seems to begin in schools. Our education system presents IT as 'a boys’ field'. While not actively discouraging girls from pursuing this career path, the effect is apparent. Girls are channelled towards what are regarded as the more 'creative' careers.

This is where our educational system needs to change its approach so when these girls become young women they are eager to enrol in the Cloud Academy and begin their IT careers. Now they are being influenced in a way that they feel that IT is not particularly a 'women’s career.' They enrol on courses such as 'information and communication technologies,' which basically qualifies them use computers not program them.

This isn’t just my viewpoint. An Institute of Physics study recently revealed that a half of U.K. schools reinforce these sorts of gender stereotypes. An analysis of the National Pupil Database reveals subjects such as biology, psychology and English were geared towards girls while subjects such as maths, economics and physics were geared towards boys.

A 2013 skills survey by the Institution of Engineering and Technology found only 7%  of the U.K.’s engineers were women. That figure has increased a mere two percent during the past five years. In Sweden, that figure is 26 percent. In Spain, that figure is 18% In Italy, it is 20%.

That is not only appalling, it is damaging to the future of the U.K.

Fortunately, the Science and Technology Commons Select Committee has begun following the progress of female students pursuing careers in fields such as maths, engineering, science and technology.

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Female students need to be shown that IT and high tech is inherently creative, that they will be shaping how people live, work and play, that web and mobile application development will take more than knowing their ones and zeros.

Fortunately, government is beginning to recognise the problem. The technology sector skills council, e-skills, provides young people with IT projects support so they not only are able, but willing, to pursue careers in the tech industry. I have advocated this approach for a long time now.

The e-skills’ projects target university students throughout the U.K. but also are working on encouraging younger students to focus on IT careers. They also are focussing on getting more young women into the IT industry. One such approach is Computer Clubs for Girls, a programme targeted at girls as young as 10 years old that is used in more than 200 U.K. primary and secondary schools.

These are great schemes but government only can do so much. These schemes provide a good base for increasing youth and women’s employment in the IT industry. Now is time for the industry itself to pick up the ball and run with it.

A disturbing proportion of young women who do study maths, science, technology and engineering end up choosing other industries when they graduate.

So IT companies themselves must provide young women with not just the necessary skills training but, perhaps more importantly, incentives to pursue IT careers and erase this idea that it is 'man’s job.'

New talent is any industry’s lifeblood and that’s especially in an industry growing as rapidly as ours. So, obviously if we need to attract new talent we shouldn’t be ignoring half the population.

A big reason this is so important is ours is an industry that not only requires 'hands-on learning' as much as 'textbook teaching' but it also is constantly changing. What a recent graduate learned a year or two ago may not be as applicable today. So training apprentices is just as important as finding qualified graduates, many of whom will require continuing education themselves.

Clearly we in the IT industry can’t simply await the latest government scheme. We must take the lead ourselves.

 

Sourced from Scott Fletcher, MBE, ANS Group 

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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