Although we can never predict the career path of a student based on their exam subjects, those of us working in the tech sector are always hoping to see more young women taking STEM subjects at school as a first step towards a tech career. At A Level this year, the number of entries in STEM subjects increased by 1.7% in England, yet the all-important gender gap continues to worsen. Computing, ICT, and Maths all saw a wider gender gap than 2018, with less females to males. It was positive to see that the gender gap in physics improved this year, but it remains significant.
At GCSE level, the number of girls taking computing rose this year, with entries up 14%. Unfortunately, women still only made up 21.4% of the total student numbers. With girls outperforming their male counterparts in both A-level computing and ICT – and in GCSE computing – the proficiency for these subjects is clearly there, but girls are lacking the interest or appropriate encouragement to consider careers in what is an incredibly rewarding sector.
What is turning our female students away from tech? A PWC report can offer some insight: A survey of over 2,000 A Level and university students found that only 27% of women would consider a career in tech and a mere 3% think of it as a first choice. A lack of visible role models is a major issue; only 22% of all students could name a famous woman working in tech. There is also gender discrimination in career guidance, with only 16% of female students having had a role in tech suggested to them, compared to a third of males. We know that parents also have a role to play, and Nominet’s own research found that British parents are steering their daughters away from a career in tech, favouring a career as a doctor or teacher for their girls.
While parents and teachers have an opportunity to widen the career choices of young women, tech industry workplaces must also strive to create an environment that is appropriate and welcoming to females as much as males. We don’t want women to be dissuaded by what they may perceive as a ‘male’ environment, where progression could be hindered. As a woman in tech myself I strive to ensure Nominet as a company is open and attractive to both genders equally. We are signed up to the Tech Talent Charter, a great organisation that is raising awareness of the need for diversity in business and providing a space for tech companies to share knowledge and best practice. Simple changes like targeted advertising can be crucial to capture the interest of a diverse range of candidates and encourage them to consider joining a company.
Other efforts Nominet is undertaking include helping to increase the number of young people considering careers in tech through our programmes such as Nominet Digital Neighbourhood and our work with the Micro:bit Foundation. We also regularly create ‘women in tech’ profiles on our blog to highlight some of the great women we have working at Nominet, as well as women working across the industry. These articles help to demonstrate the breadth of roles and career paths for the women working in technology, and we hope they serve to make these roles seem interesting and attractive – and not out of reach. Personally, I try to write articles that promote my own positive journey through tech and take up invitations to speak at events. After all, you can’t be what you can’t see.
Ultimately, getting anywhere close to gender parity in the tech industry will require wide scale social change, but that shouldn’t stop us from trying. We can all make changes in our spheres of influence, whether as parents, teachers, career advisors, or tech sector employees. We can all contribute to a wider cultural discourse that will open up this exciting industry to the many girls who are discounting it and encourage them to bring their skill set to enhance the industry and the future it is shaping.
Eleanor Bradley, MD, Registry Solutions & Public Benefit, Nominet