Guest Blog: How do we #PressforProgress?

  • techUK techUK
    Tuesday06Mar 2018
    Opinions

    Nicky Stewart from UKCloud discusses how girls can be encouraged to enter into STEM subjects from an early age - and it's not through 'fingerwagging'.

The facts speak for themselves - and they are pretty appalling.

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If you are on the techUK website and reading this, you probably don’t need to be reminded that digital skills are in short supply and that the UK is competing on a global basis for its digital skills. You’ll also be aware that a thriving digital economy in the UK will be critical in meeting the challenges of the coming years, and that women are in short supply in our digital world.

The facts are sobering: only 17% of IT specialists are women according to BCS, which also observed that the proportion of females studying/progressing along the path to IT employment drops at each of the key stages in their educational development.

Here at UKCloud we celebrate diversity, and we are proud of our female workforce (see https://ukcloud.com/women-in-stem) but we, and the rest of the UK, have a mountain to climb if we are to really tap into the talent and ability of the female workforce.

Not only are too few women entering the profession, but of those that do, many drop out of their technology careers in their 30s.

Its not that we are short of role models – there are many – from Jacqueline de Rojas CBE (the President of techUK and the chair of the Digital Leaders board) and Baroness Martha Lane Fox (co-founder of Lastminute.com and currently a philanthropist and public servant) to Rachel Neaman (CEO of our sister organisation the Corsham Institute). And its not that the UK doesn’t care about this, or that it is sitting on its hands (including the Science and Technology Committee inquiry into women in STEM careers). Although the gender pay gap is closing incrementally, pay parity between men and women in the UK is not forecast to be achieved until 2069. Significantly, the gap in starting salary between men and women who have studied STEM subjects and go on to take jobs in those spheres is smaller than in any other subjects studied. On top of which careers in technology attract higher salaries, with high-potential grads from top universities no longer making a bee-line for lucrative careers in finance and increasingly pursuing jobs in tech – and there no reason that more of them should not be women.

While almost everyone is in support of action on women in STEM, there is limited agreement on the cause or the best action to take. Some of the coverage of the gender gap in tech can seem like fingerwagging. It suggests that girls ‘should’ aspire to a career in STEM, and it is a deficiency in the education system if they do not do so. Education has a huge part to play, and much to do, but while there all of the arguments made ring true, the knub of the problem lies in attitudes that are formed very early in our lives.

If we wait until girls are choosing which course to take at university or which subjects to take at secondary school, to seek to influence them and persuade them to consider STEM, then we are too late. Gender stereotypes are formed much earlier than this. At this stage in their lives the greatest influence on them comes directly from their parents and their peers, and it is therefore the attitudes of parents, and their lack of awareness of the wide range of opportunities afforded by a technology career, or the connection between STEM in education and employment that we need to influence too.

While female role models, improved education, cooperative employers and attractive employement in STEM are all incredibly important, we also need to address the cultural root causes if we are to make a real difference in the long term.

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