Although the opportunities for women in STEM are steadily increasing, we are still finding it challenging to attract girls to choose this path and to keep them in the profession as time progresses. According to the Women in Science and Engineering (Wise) campaign's latest analysis of UK labour market statistics, women make up just 14.4% of the STEM workforce. To raise awareness and tackle the diversity issue, it is important to come together to recognise these inequalities and celebrate the achievements of women who overcame these barriers.
On the 8th March, we celebrated International Women's Day, with this year's theme being Be Bold For Change. It couldn't be more relevant at a time where issues like gender inequality and stereotypes in the workplace continue to make headlines across the UK and globally. It was inspiring to stop and appreciate the progress we've made as well as the issues yet to resolve, and renew motivation to help drive gender equality.
To improve diversity numbers and attract more women to technology roles, the government and industry should take the following steps:
• Early education on the joys of computer tech/science - Seeing technology as a tool to solve problems rather than technology as an end in itself is one of the key messages that needs to be conveyed to children in schools. We need to ensure that students are taught computer science more broadly within secondary schools and can access more interesting tasks rather than a course of basic, and fairly dull IT skills. The UK curriculum now mandates computer programming, but schools are struggling to provide quality instruction. As more girls gain exposure to the world of coding and understand its huge potential for application in the wider world, more girls will consider a career in tech. It is also important to demonstrate how technology can be applied in real life, from fashion and architecture, to medicine and entertainment. By learning the role that technology plays in different sectors, students can better understand how a career in technology opens up many doors.
• Mentoring, coaching and sponsorship from pre-university through to leadership roles - It is important to appreciate and celebrate the economic, political and social achievements of women who have made history. It is these role models that will continuously serve as powerful reminders to other women and young girls that they can make a difference and be inspired to do so. By having an opportunity to look up to someone who has already accomplished their dream, girls will feel more confident and engaged with the industry. Similarly, having local role models that girls can easily reach out and relate to can help to make their ambitions seem more achievable.
• Women-friendly cultures in tech companies - A collaborative, empathetic culture is proven to help retention of women in tech roles. This doesn't happen overnight and needs direction from the top, as well as encouragement and nurture to be maintained. At Pivotal, we work hard to create a healthy and accessible atmosphere, and our leadership regularly communicates our values. We have frequent conversations with our dedicated Diversity Team, and are discussing a potential code of conduct for the industry: one that is open, supportive and promotes mutual respect.
• Reinventing yourself no matter what stage you are in your career - Having an opportunity to develop yourself at any stage of a career and learn from others is another area organisations need to consider. Consider creating a path back into tech for women who have taken time out to have children. Encouraging employees to take part in seminars, discussion groups and knowledge sharing sessions will open up new horizons for many and increase retention by facilitating role changes within the organisation.
Overall as an industry we need to show young women that technology is an exciting area to work in and can be as welcoming and purposeful as any other. To do so, we need to cultivate a culture in which teachers encourage their female students to continue on for advanced degrees; a culture where women feel comfortable in their working environment; and a culture where everyone feels valued and has the opportunity to grow.