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National Coding Week: A Timely Reminder For Why Diversity In Tech Starts Now

20/09/2017 15:49

This year's UK A-Level results revealed an alarming truth: very few girls actually took computing at A-Level: 9.8%. As someone who works in the tech industry, I find this worrying and sad. Numerous studies have revealed that the current gender gap means the UK tech sector is missing out on significant business opportunities for growth, innovation and success.

Perhaps what's even more alarming is that according to KPMG, 73% of university students said they had not considered a graduate job in technology.

How can we as an industry encourage and show young people, and particularly women, that a career in tech is rewarding?

Well, first, we have to start with the women already in place in the tech industry. The lack of women in senior roles has been well-publicised, and I'm sure you're already familiar with the statistic that there are more men called John than women leading FTSE 100 companies, but did you know that nearly 60 percent of tech companies have no female board members and fewer than 5 percent have a female CEO?

Tech leaders must keep an eye on rising talent and always think about the ways they can help them progress up the career ladder. Mentorship can help ensure the industry is nurturing this talent and growing it successfully. I've mentored a number of women throughout my career and I've learnt an enormous amount from them. Mentoring is an ideal forum to help women build social capital, navigate organisational politics and muster up the confidence to take advantage of opportunities.

I also make a conscious effort to put female employees forward for speaking opportunities and conferences to celebrate their talents at key awards and events. My company also provides unconscious bias training for managers and has made a commitment that 30% of attendance to all important company meetings should be women - actions like this can make a real difference.

We also need to get the excitement around technology firmly implanted at a young age. National Coding Week, which takes place the 18th to 24th of September this year, is a great opportunity to bring careers in tech into the spotlight. Founded by former head teacher Richard Rolfe, National Coding Week was set up to help improve people's digital literacy and help plug the skills gap. Its other aim is to encourage more women to get involved in coding. To me, National Coding Week opens up coding to a much broader audience and it's an initiative I believe all of us in the industry should embrace. However, we also need to look at other ways to showcase the world of tech to young men and women to encourage them into the industry.

It's crucial to capture young people's imaginations with technology at school age. After all, "you can't be what you can't see," which is why it's important for young people to have role models they can look up to and relate to. And as the father of two teenage daughters, I can see the importance of ensuring students know there is a huge range of interesting roles and career paths tied to technology. A simple way to do this is to contact your old primary and secondary school and ask to come in and speak to the students about your own experiences of working in the technology industry.

For example, a young woman interested in fashion may not realise that the industry relies on technology to keep it relevant in the digital age. She may think her only options are to become a fashion editor or designer but, in reality, brands now need coders and developers in order to make the shopping experience more personalised and enjoyable for customers.

This grassroots approach is also crucial in debunking the myth that "only boys" study maths, technology and science. Many of my female peers take the time to work with schools, coding clubs and other organisations such as Stemettes and Girl Guides to show young women that a career in tech can be extremely exciting and rewarding.

National Coding Week may only happen once a year but it serves as a timely reminder for the industry to make a pledge and help boost diversity and equality even more. After all, the stats don't lie - companies that are more forward-thinking when it comes to diversity and inclusion will have a distinct advantage over their competitors.

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