THE BLOG

Parents Are Key To Getting More Girls In IT

04/07/2017 12:44 BST | Updated 04/07/2017 12:44 BST

Whether you sit in the nature or nurture camp - or safely on the fence - there is no doubting the vast influence parents have on their children, from their habits and behaviours to their career choices and personal development through life.

With this in mind, parents must bear some of the responsibility for the shortage of young women pursuing careers in ICT. The UK government reports that just 17% of workers in the tech sector are female, despite women making up almost half of the country's workforce. The underrepresentation starts at school: only 7% of computer science A level students are female.

IT coding skills and digital skills are some of the most important weapons in a young workers' arsenal as new tech infiltrates all area of employment - the European Commission maintains that 90% of occupations today require digital competences, including programming. However, according to our new research, these skills are viewed by parents as more important for boys than girls, just as tech-specific careers are preferred for sons.

One in eight parents would want their son to be a game developer, compared to just one on 20 who say the same of their daughters. There is the same disparity for engineers and tech entrepreneurs. Parents are more interested in their daughters working as a doctor, nurse or paramedic, or teacher, despite the fact that the tech jobs are likely to offer higher wages and long-term job security in the face of AI and automation. How do we account for the counter intuitive logic?

Although awareness of the job opportunities within the IT industry has risen in the past decade, there remains a misconception that roles in IT are 'geeky' or boring. Roles within IT are made further unappealing to parents of females by news of high-profile companies' working conditions. Working life in a technology company appears to consist of long hours and a fiercely competitive culture, with females an uncomfortable minority. Recent reports of discrimination can't have helped to make the tech industry more attractive to females and their influential parents.

While the wider societal challenges of gender stereotyping will take some time to change, parents can start the process in the home - and there are many resources to help introduce girls to STEM (science, technology, engineering, maths) topics and support their interest.

For example, the National Centre for Women and Information Technology suggests 10 easy steps for encouraging an interest in computing, which includes visiting science museums or technology events, finding computing activities you can do together and drawing attention to role models within the industry.

A job in IT will not appeal or suit every daughter out there - or son for that matter - but it's crucial to ensure our children believe they can achieve whatever they want. Sadly, the lack of girls pursuing an education and career in IT has been partly blamed on a lack of self-confidence, with even the highest-performing girls having "low levels of confidence in their ability to solve science and mathematics problems", even if they perform well in assessments. Parental support and encouragement could be the key to helping girls fulfil their potential and become a greater presence in the fascinating and challenging world of ICT. So, let's do all we can to support them.

As a leader within a technology company and responsible for hiring strong and effective teams, I'm acutely aware that we can only be the best we can be by having a talented and diverse employee base - and this includes having workers of both genders in key roles. With this in mind, I hope to see many more girls embracing IT and STEM subjects so we can all benefit from their skills in the years to come. Let's do all we can to support them.