Today, the tech industry is intertwined with almost every aspect of our lives, in every waking moment, and it's a privilege to see first-hand just how much of a difference we can make to the world around us. I've seen IT save lives in hospitals, catch criminals with Digital Forensics solutions, and protect citizens and governments alike from cyber threats - it's an incredibly rewarding career. However throughout my career, I've encountered few female IT leaders and that is a cycle that we need to break.
According to Gartner, the number of female CIOs has remained static at 14 per cent since 2004 and women occupy only 11.2 per cent of technology leadership roles in EMEA. As a woman in a technology leadership role, I can say that it is not uncommon to be the only woman in the boardroom. To change this trend, we need to be personal advocates for our peers and inspire a culture of inclusion in the workplace. And that's why I'm proud to be part of the Women in IT awards which take place in January 2015.
But it's not enough to encourage more women into the IT industry, nor to support them once they have decided to join the sector. It's important that, as an industry, we start talking to young girls about their future early on, actively showing them the benefits of working in IT. This will help them see the opportunities they have to make a real impact on the world through technology, before they start making decisions about A-Levels, university and ultimately their careers.
That's why the STEM subjects are such a key part in helping girls to realise their potential - reading maths at university was one of the best decisions I ever made. It opened the doors to technology for me as the sector was largely driven by mathematics, and learning to code on punch cards from IBM was the moment where things clicked into place for me.
Today's technology industry is really broad and offers lots of different career options, but we still need more programmers, engineers and scientists , subjects which girls are far less likely to study at sixth form and at university. Almost two thirds of students on the BTEC qualification in IT level 2 (the equivalent of GCSEs) and over 80% of the students continuing to level 3 (the equivalent of A Levels) are male.
It's not that girls are underachieving in these subjects; in fact, men and women are equally matched in performance at these subjects up until the point where they choose what to do next. What we need to focus on is getting girls to study these subjects at school in the first place; we need to fuel their excitement and passion for these subjects, and help them to understand just how vital they are in understanding the technology industry as it stands today.
UK classes focusing on the sciences or mathematics easily see an 80/20 split in the numbers of male and female students respectively; this is far lower than other countries across the world, with the likes of the US seeing higher participation rates for girls.
But what can we do to help these girls see the benefits of studying STEM subjects? For one thing, companies can actively reach out to prospective students who are still deciding on their GCSE options and present them with a far more realistic vision of where a career in IT could lead.
For example, at Dell we run an 'IT is not for Geeks' programme, which encourages students to view technology and IT careers in a different light. Dell team members visit schools and speak to students preparing to select their GCSE and A-Level subjects. The sessions are designed to encourage students to pick STEM subjects early in their studies and demystify a few beliefs about the IT sector. At the same time, they inform students how to be successful within the wider world of work, preparing them for a future in any career.
The key is getting girls to think differently about a career in technology and the digital world and to break the stereotypes that exist around a career in technology. Every journey begins with a single step, and motivating girls to study the STEM subjects can be the first step towards a long and fruitful career within the IT industry.