"Technology changes everything. It continues to create, innovate and transform our daily lives. The beauty of technology is that it does not see people according to their gender, colour or ethnicity. And yet this is not reflected in gender diversity in the tech workplace."
Asha Kumaran. Early Careers Partner, Sky.
Two years ago, I started my role at Sky in graduate recruitment for software and tech roles, and I have observed first-hand the huge gender imbalance in the tech sector. Considerable efforts such as awareness campaigns, gender-focused training schemes and targeted recruitment campaigns are being made to attract and encourage more girls and women to enter the tech sector.
Despite all this, a recent study by PwC found that only 3% of the female university students they questioned said that a career in tech was their first choice.
As a student in India, to me and my classmates, tech companies were modern, cool and a coveted career option. Yet in the UK, many tech companies struggle to meet their gender diversity targets. And I’ve been wondering, why?
The forgotten group is the most important
According to research conducted by the Open University in partnership with Nasscom, 35% of people with in specialist technology roles in India are women, compared to 17% in the UK. There are a few underlying reasons behind this.
In India a career in technology is considered prestigious and well paid, so naturally parents encourage their daughters to pursue a technology related degree. But most importantly, parents realise it is a field that their daughters can easily access and are allowed to thrive in.
The attitudes of parents play a vital role in women choosing STEM courses at secondary school, university and ultimately becoming an engineer. Perhaps the tech sector in the UK needs to raise its profile among parents as much as students and get them on board.
Where are the female role models?
Role models play a vital role in shaping an individual’s career. When I was at secondary school, my whole class loved studying computer science. A huge reason for that was our genius, female, computer science teacher. She was a strong role model to me and the 60 other girls in my cohort. Many went on to study computer science degrees and are now software and hardware engineers. One female teacher inspired so many.
Everybody knows Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, but how many have heard of Ada Lovelace, Grace Hopper or Katherine Johnson? Female role models do exist, but we need to do a better job of highlighting their stories and celebrating their achievements.
Changing the stereotypes or creating a new one in our society?
Gender diversity, equality and tech are natural companions. But there remains a disconnect.
The PwC study found that 50% of females wanted a career in which they felt they could make the world a better place. Tech companies have made more positive changes to the world in the past 80 years than at any time in the history of civilisation.
A huge 83% of British female millennials stated that they actively seek out employers with a strong record on diversity, equality and inclusion. Tech companies are built on these values, yet only 17% of female students undertake STEM subjects in UK universities? Companies are never going to achieve their gender diversity targets with this small pool of potential applicants.
Despite this, Sky has been working on addressing the gender imbalance in tech in every possible way and has achieved a 50:50 gender diversity across software and tech graduate roles this year.
But there is still a need to create a new stereotype that women can be pioneers in tech. There is a need to reach out to parents and society in general to highlight that technology is changing our lives and our world, and to tell them that their daughters can and should play a key role in that, and most important of all, that there is a need for more women in tech.