From education to employment

Three quarters of women from lower socio-economic backgrounds weren’t encouraged to pursue a career in tech at school

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Three quarters of women from lower socio-economic backgrounds were not encouraged to pursue a career in the tech industry, and 83% of women from lower socio-economic backgrounds were not taught coding in school, a new study by Code First Girls and NatWest on the gender and class gap in the tech industry shows.  

Code First Girls (CFG), the UK’s largest provider of free coding courses and employment opportunities for women, has today released a report in partnership with NatWest, highlighting the barriers stifling social mobility and gender parity in the tech industry, as well as providing key insights to help close the gender and socio-economic gap in the sector, and empower communities. 

The report, entitled, ‘How to Empower Minority Groups with Economic Opportunities by Building Diverse Tech Teams’ includes exclusive new data from a survey of more than 1,200 women. 

While the UK’s tech job market is predicted to grow six times to be worth £30bn by 2025, CFG estimates that as things stand there will only be one qualified woman for every 115 roles. Social mobility is also a major issue in the tech industry with the proportion of employees from working class backgrounds measuring only 19%, compared to 33.3% across other industries. 

However, the industry is uniquely placed to make a real difference to social mobility given its low barriers to entry, multiple avenues into the profession and high pay. Previous research suggests achieving gender parity in tech could add £2.6bn to the economy, while increasing social mobility across sectors could benefit the economy by up to £45bn. 

CFG found that the barriers women face in technology start at school and continue right through their educational and employment pathway, with women from lower socio-economic backgrounds facing a significant number of obstacles to get ahead. Amongst those who went to state-funded schools, “lack of confidence”, “male domination/ sexism” and “preconception that it’s an industry for men” were all listed as the biggest barriers to entry for women in tech. Furthermore, more than three-quarters of respondents who had received free school meals said that they had experienced imposter syndrome in their jobs.

Despite not being encouraged into tech at school, many women find themselves considering a career in the sector in later life. CFG has taught 80,000 women to code, with 80% of its students coming from non-STEM backgrounds – 49% of these are career switchers. The report found that adopting equal pay initiatives, supporting STEM school initiatives, and offering female mentorship were seen by women who attended state school as the top three ways that organisations can encourage more women into technology. Respondents also pointed to flexible working hours, access to educational programmes and upskilling, as key to fostering a culture of inclusivity. 

The report’s publication follows the news that Code First Girls has closed a £4.5m Series A fundraise from female angel investors and a leading investment firm to accelerate the company’s growth and close the gender gap in the traditionally male-dominated tech industry. The company’s goal is to provide £1bn in economic opportunities for women entering the tech industry in the next five years. 

Anna Brailsford, CEO at Code First Girls, said:

“Despite diversity being high on the agenda, progress has been slow with the number of women in UK tech only increasing by 5% in the last few years. 

“Diverse teams not only perform better, but they’re also more innovative, more resilient and more profitable – it’s estimated that if the tech industry were to achieve gender parity, it would add £2.6bn to the UK’s GDP. 

“As Code First Girls research proves, early intervention matters and continues right through the pathway. Something as simple as a throwaway remark or failing to champion female role models has the potential to derail a promising tech career. 

“Code First Girls is working with companies globally, like NatWest, to boost employability, diversity and social mobility. We hope this report will act as a springboard for tech companies to think about how they’re building diverse teams and empowering communities across the UK.” 

Alison Rose, CEO at NatWest Group, said:

“There’s never been a more exciting time in the UK’s thriving technology industry, yet women are still seriously under-represented: they make up only 17% of IT specialists and 11% of working engineers in the UK. 

“Despite widespread initiatives underway, such as our partnership with Code First Girls which has helped over 2,000 women learn to code for free, data shows that the number of women working in the tech sector has remained consistently low over the past decade. This is in part attributed to smaller numbers of girls pursuing STEM subjects at school and lack of access to educational resources and role models for women looking to take up a career in tech.  

“NatWest Group recognises the need to continually attract and retain a talented and diverse technology workforce. A diverse workforce ensures a variety of skills, insights, and experiences to draw upon as we innovate and offer our customer base the quality digital products and experiences they are looking for. Early-stage investment in diverse talent pipelines with partners like Code First Girls are helping us to proactively build this workforce.” 

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