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Women should worry less about not having tech background when going into Stem

Panellists at Tomorrow’s Tech Leaders Today conference claim women don’t need a technical background to build a career in the technology industry

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Women needn’t be so cautious when applying for technology roles, as tech qualifications are not always necessary when working in the industry.

Speaking at the Tomorrow’s Tech Leaders Today careers fair, many of the panellists claimed having a broad skillset is important for entering the technology field, and technology-specific qualifications are not always required.

“You don’t necessarily need to have a technology degree to be successful. I wouldn’t say it’s a barrier to entry in the tech sector,” said Kristan Bennie, head of customer solutions development for RBS. “Pick something that you’re interested in and just go for it.”

Joysy John, chief industry officer at Ada College, highlighted a topic heavily debated recently – the need for more people with creative skills to enter the technology sector.

The government has backed many initiatives encouraging digital skills in creative industries, including the games, animation and visual effects (VFX) industries which are worth a combined £6bn to the UK economy.

“Every sector has become tech because there’s so much growth,” said John. “There’s so much need for talent.”

Employers seek recruits with wide-ranging skills

Ada College, also known as Ada – The National College for Digital Skills, focuses on providing specific technology education for children in under-privileged areas. The reason for this, said John, is to encourage the mix of skills needed for a job in the technology industry, including creative and interpersonal skills.

“What we’re trying to do is inspire more people to study technology,” she stated.

The panel agreed that this mix of skills is very important for those pursuing jobs in and outside of technology over the next five to 10 years, because most jobs now require science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) knowledge, causing a skills overlap.

We’re looking for people with the passion and appetite to go and make a difference. We’re not looking for very different skills in tech than we are anywhere else now
Lisa Heneghan, KPMG

“Even the Stem subjects are not necessarily what we’re looking for – we’re looking for people with the passion and the appetite to go and make a difference,” said Lisa Heneghan, partner and UK head of CIO advisory for KPMG. “We’re not looking for very different skills in tech than we are anywhere else now.”

But Burcu Karabork, software developer for RBS, pointed out that although everyone is growing up with these basic skills, they are not necessarily aware of how they need to be applied in the workplace.

There has recently been a backlash against the term “digital native”, with many arguing that although the younger generation are tech savvy, they still need to know how to use technology in a work setting.

According to Karabork, many graduates are studying “the right subject” for a tech job, but “they just don’t choose engineering”.

Many believe this is because of a lack of role models in the technology sector who appear to be on the same level as recent graduates – everyone they can aspire to seems too far ahead of them.

Women need confidence boost to work in IT

Karabork also stated that women need to learn to better communicate in the workplace, because they are less inclined to speak out when they need help, leaving employers unaware if they are unhappy in the workplace. 

By telling others around you at work whether you need help such as flexible working, Karabork stated women should see this as “helping out” their company, as they will feel more valued in the workplace and then be more inclined to stay. 

Amy Wettenhall, commercial director of consulting and systems integration at Ericsson, agreed lack of confidence in speaking out is part of the problem of fewer women entering the industry.

She mentioned the commonly used analogy that states “women will wait until they’re 150% capable” before applying for a job, whereas men will apply even if they’re only 60% qualified.

Women need to be more “self-aware” about their skills and abilities, according to Wettenhall. “We need to get more women to come to the table,” she stated.

Labelling the gender split in the industry an “injustice”, Ben Rossi, editorial director at Information Age, said more diverse and balanced teams can only benefit organisations.

The panel explained one of the advantages of having women in the workplace is the emotional intelligence they bring to the roles they step into, while still having logical and analytical skills.

Sandi Mays, executive vice-president of Zayo Group, stated women should see themselves as a “triple threat” – having the necessary skills for the job and having the ability to bring a creative element to a technology role.

“We have to be comfortable using technology because we use it every day. People who are not computer programming are actually programming and they don’t even know about it,” said Mays. “Women can be so creative and wonderful, they can come up with something that’s out of the box.”

Read more about diversity in the IT industry

  • The London Assembly Economy Committee urges London mayor Johnson to further champion women in IT, redesign apprenticeships to improve skills and diversity, and lobby for superfast broadband in the capital.
  • Recruitment firm Monster has launched a Tech Talent Charter to provide the IT industry with guidelines for diverse hiring.

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