Throughout history women have played a key role in innovating and developing technology. From Ada Lovelace publishing the first algorithm intended to be carried by the first modern computer, through to Margaret Hamilton overseeing the team tasked with developing flight software for NASA's Apollo space mission, women have had a huge impact on how technology has shaped our world.
However, despite women's influence in the sector, gender diversity is a persistent issue within the technology industry. In such a vast and growing area, women still take up a very limited amount of IT positions. Research by Deloitte found that only 18 percent of the IT workforce in the UK are women - this is a miniscule figure and does not reflect well on the industry as a whole.
An increasing number of technology roles are opening up, and we do not have the amount of trained staff available to fill them. This skills gap is even being noticed at government level. In the recent Digital Skills Crisis report, published by the Commons Science and Technology Select Committee, it was found that the digital skills gap is costing the UK economy £63 billion a year in lost GDP. Encouraging women into the sector should be a top priority to help fill these roles and bringing a wider set of skills to the industry.
Why is there such a lack of diversity in technology? Is it because women simply aren't as interested as men in technology or is the cause much deeper than this?
Research from industry body CompTIA, of which I am on the UK Executive Council and the Board of Directors, suggests that girls are discouraged from a very young age. Based on a survey and focus groups of girls between the ages of 10 and 17, we found there are some critical factors that discourage girls from considering careers in tech:
• Parents play a key role in introducing technology - Girls and boys agree that parents and guardians are the primary source for finding out what IT stands for. But boys are more likely to begin using mobile devices at an earlier age, at five years old or younger, than girls (11% vs. 5%). Boys are also slightly more likely to explore the inner workings of tech devices out of curiosity (36% vs. 30% of girls).
• Girls lack awareness about career opportunities - Of girls who have not considered an IT career, 69% attribute this to not knowing what opportunities are available to them. More than half (53%) say additional information about career options would encourage them to consider a job in IT.
• Girls need role models in the industry - Just 37% of girls know of someone with an IT job. This rises to 60% among girls who have considered an IT career.
These results highlight that right from the beginning, young girls are being pigeonholed and not given the access to experience technology like their male counterparts, and that the lack of females in the industry to inspire them hinders them further. This means young women rarely see the great opportunities that are in the industry for them.
Fortunately, the industry is starting to take action to encourage women to look at technology as a career path. Initiatives such as CompTIA's Make Tech Her Story campaign and Tech UK's Women in IT initiative are doing good work in pushing tech industry leaders, educators, parents and, most importantly, girls to make the industry more gender inclusive. However, we require more involvement from everyone from industry to education to government if we are going to reach as many girls and women as possible.
Expansion of the technology industry means there are potentially hundreds of thousands of jobs to be filled in the next few years and the industry desperately need girls and women to be inspired and take some of these roles. Technology is an incredible industry to be part of; there's always something new and fascinating to investigate and make use of. Anyone who wants an interesting career should take a look at what the technology industry has to offer - women like Ada Lovelace changed the world, and you could be next.