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Tech Careers for Women: Decoding the Myths

17/07/2015 10:07 BST | Updated 13/07/2016 10:59 BST

Gender equality makes smart business sense, and I'm not the only one who thinks so. According to a global study, companies that score highly in gender diversity are 15% more likely to outperform industry averages. Yet despite accounting for almost half of the workforce, women still hold only 14% of technology-focused positions.

And it's not much better at the top. The leadership balance at flagship tech companies -- such as Google and LinkedIn -- is distinctly off-kilter, with women in 22% and 30% of leadership roles respectively.

It's a conundrum so perplexing that a host of myths have been created as a form of explanation. And like so many legends, when unchecked they run the risk of being mistaken for truth - something we cannot and must not allow to happen. I believe it is important that women who have made it through the tech maze help and inspire others to do the same, and for my part I'm beginning by dispelling industry folklore.

Myth one: women aren't interested in working in tech

This myth is the age-old way to solve an inconvenient problem -- by pretending it isn't there. If women are not interested in tech then their absence in the industry is not a problem, right? Wrong. From an early age, I wanted a career that would combine my love of maths with my passion for communication. After enjoying maths at A-Level, I was keen to continue my studies at university, but teachers discouraged me for fear there wouldn't be 'like-minded' people -- women - on the degree course.

It turns out that I wasn't alone. A report by the IPPR found that discouragement often begins at school. At 16, girls are persuaded to make educational decisions that can close off career pathways in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). I went on to study economics, but gender stereotyping is stunting the potential of many young women. Only with exposure to STEM subjects for both girls and boys can we change perceptions. With hands-on learning, networking, mentoring and sponsoring, subjects such as technology and maths can become accessible to everyone.

Myth two: there isn't enough social support

Gender imbalance can be self-perpetuating. The greater the inequality, the more talented women shy away - believing they will have a limited support network. I can attest that being the only female in a team of male colleagues can feel lonely at times, yet the tech industry is not a barren wasteland in which women are abandoned. Far from it, scarcity drives solidarity and there are links between women in tech across the UK. From groups set up to help female pupils, such as Stemettes and Girls in Tech, to those intended to bring working women together, like Women Who Code, support is there if you look for it.

These grassroots groups are invaluable and investment would certainly help to increase their impact, but is that enough? Building awareness of the difficulties facing women in the industry is only the first step. An official funding body - uniting the tech giants, governments and gender equality philanthropists - would be a more effective move towards giving the support needed to encourage more women into tech.

Myth three: tech workplaces are a meritocracy

The industry claims to be a meritocracy where merit - not gender - is the only basis of reward. The fact is that women who enter the tech world expecting fairness based on skill are often disappointed. Until the industry as a whole recognises and seeks to rectify the issue, it is likely to linger. But that does not mean women in tech cannot be successful.

Companies can make a difference by acknowledging the issue and working on any internal imbalances. Adding talented women to the executive team, giving promotions and making women feel valued, as well as inspired. The attributes that have carried me through are an open attitude to change and a willingness to learn - crucial in an environment where nothing stands still. Just because something takes longer to grasp does not mean it is impossible. Whether they are at school or in business, women need to feel confident enough to ask questions and acquire new skills that will enable them to progress.

Once decoded, these myths reveal the thorny, but not impassable road to encouraging more women into tech. By changing the way tech is presented to young women and providing opportunities for them to forge a career, we can create a new generation of skilled, female tech workers. Success for women does not have to come at the expense of success for men. Rather, a level playing field will produce an even bigger pool of talent that will propel the industry to further growth and more diverse thinking - and that can't be a bad thing.