Its time the tech boys club welcomed some new members

Author

Ann Pickering

March 25, 2015

There’s work to be done to show young women that a career in digital is every bit as relevant and viable to them as it is to their male classmates, says Ann Pickering

The House of Lords Digital Skills Committee recently published its report into the UK’s evolving digital landscape, and the extent to which the UK workforce is keeping pace with progress.

The findings were less than encouraging, painting a bleak picture of the digital skills shortage and the work that still needs to be done before we can call ourselves a leading digital economy.

And yet, for me, one of the most worrying outputs was that, despite the incredible drive we’ve seen to get more women into tech, there remains a significant gender gap in the take-up of digital careers.

This is a problem stemming from school, with the report revealing that, of the 4,000 students currently studying for computer science A-level in the UK, fewer than 100 are female.

We consider ourselves to live in a modern and advanced society, with equal opportunities for all – and yet there’s something utterly Victorian about any classroom where girls make up such a tiny minority.

Clearly there’s a job to be done to show these young women that a career in digital is every bit as relevant and viable to them as it is to their male classmates.

The argument for greater diversity in the tech sector isn’t just a moral one; it’s rooted in genuine business sense. We have 24 million customers at O2, male and female, so it’s absolutely vital that our workforce is a true reflection of those customers.

I speak from experience when I say that a progressive and flourishing tech sector requires the skills and potential of both men and women. And yet how can we expect to achieve this, when girls aren’t taking up the school and university courses required for these careers?

It’s not rocket science – if there aren’t enough girls learning digital skills at school, there won’t be enough women in the tech sector ten years later.

So what can we do? Well, as the Digital Skills Committee report suggests, the outdated perception of the tech sector among girls and young women is a major obstacle, with careers services not doing enough to disprove these harmful stereotypes.

And yet we can’t lay all the blame at the door of careers services; they’re just one piece of the puzzle. If we’re to effect real change, we all have to play our part to replace the notion of a tech ‘boy’s club’ with a more accurate portrayal of the exciting career opportunities available in the digital sector.

As the people set to benefit from their talent, it’s up to us as business leaders to get the young generation excited and passionate about the digital economy – whether that’s by forging official tie-ups with careers services, establishing one-on-one mentoring partnerships with local schoolchildren, or leading interactive workshops with female school pupils.

There’s a fantastic initiative called TechStars, set up by two female graduates at O2, which is designed to give young girls their first taste of technology, get them engaged in what it can do, and encourage them to pursue an education and, ultimately, a career in digital in the future.

Programmes like this can have such a huge impact, and are a great example of what businesses can do to get young people – girls in particular – more excited about digital.

The digital revolution has created incredible opportunities for everyone, with HR Directors like me now looking to fill a whole series of roles that weren’t even on our radar five years ago.

Young people, as the first generation to have grown up with the Internet, are uniquely placed to capitalise on these opportunities, but we need to make sure we’re giving the UK’s young female talent the support and encouragement they need to make the most of them. If not, we’ll be fighting this battle for years to come.

Ann Pickering, O2’s HR Director

This article was written by Ann Pickering from The Daily Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.


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