Everyone in IT is a role model for those considering a career in the technology industry, whether they think they are or not, according to Jacqueline de Rojas, executive vice-president for Europe at Sage and president of technology association TechUK.
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Many cite a lack of visible role models as the reason why women and girls choose not to pursue a career in technology, as they either have a misconception of the type of person who works in technology or do not know what an IT career involves.
Speaking to an audience of women at the WeAreTheCity 2016 technology conference, De Rojas reminded tech professionals they are the role models children and young women will be looking towards.
“You are a role model whether you choose to be or not,” she said.
But imposter syndrome, the term used to describe accomplished individuals who are unable to accept their own abilities, is often associated with women in the IT industry, preventing many women from speaking out about their achievements and encouraging others to pursue tech jobs.
De Rojas advised women in tech to overcome negative self-image through sharing experiences and learning from one another.
“It doesn’t take a lifetime of coaching or relationships to inspire or be inspired,” she said. “It is possible to create outstanding careers from a position of extreme adversity.”
Feeding tech’s talent pipeline
Though it is difficult to measure the impact diversity can make on an organisation, many have found that having more diverse teams makes firms more productive and more profitable, and having one woman on a company board has been found to reduce the likelihood of bankruptcy by 20%.
But De Rojas is concerned the UK will not continue to grow the technology industry, despite its 12.6% contribution to GDP.
One of the main concerns following the UK’s decision to leave the European Union was a potential decline in skilled tech workers, and De Rojas urged the government and industry to continue to feed and grow the pipeline.
“There’s massive opportunity in technology, and if we don’t find the talent outside the current talent pool, we will run out,” she said.
The coders of the future
There are many initiatives designed to encourage women and young girls to choose careers in the technology industry.
Anyone can become one of “the coders of the future”, said Anne-Marie Imafidon, founder of volunteer organisation Stemettes. Yet the number of female coders in the UK rests at only 11.2% of the total.
Imafidon claimed that, when breaking coding concepts to make them simpler, girls are usually less intimidated by the concept of a coding role.
She compared compiling algorithms to writing the instructions for tasks such as making a sandwich, a cup of tea, or knitting.
“Computers are basically dumb robots from outer space that have no idea what you’re trying to do,” said Imafidon.
Now, computing and coding concepts are a compulsory part of the curriculum in the UK for children aged between five and 16, and technology is becoming more and more common, making these skills important for the future.
Imafidon said the emergence of the internet of things means technology will increasingly be in both people’s work and home lives, making a knowledge of technology essential.
“This is 2016, soon to be 2017. Tech, if it isn’t already, is going to be everywhere,” said Imafidon, adding that the resulting need for more coding would cause the barriers to entry to come crashing down.
There are increasingly more resources focused on teaching people of all ages how to code, including Code Academy, She Codes, Code School and Makers Academy.
Imafidon claimed coding skills are important to learn early on, even if programming languages change or become outdated, as these core skills are transferrable.
But many claim an emphasis on traditional coding at an early age will not be helpful for children looking for future tech roles. BBC Click presenter Kate Russell said people need to change their opinions on the technology industry.
“It’s time to rebrand a lot of the aspects of technology,” she said.
Early on in the pipeline young girls have complained technology subjects appear “too hard”. And later in life, when women are searching for technology roles, the language used in job descriptions can deter women from choosing roles which might be deemed too technically focused, regardless of whether they have the skills to do the role.
Russell encouraged the industry to take a look at how it is selling and describing its technology roles.
As a final word of advice, Russell urged everyone, including women in tech, to take an unconscious bias test, with all speakers agreeing that everyone will have some form of unconscious bias.
Russell claimed she had been surprised by her own results when she took the unconscious bias test, and that once everyone is aware of their prejudices, the industry will begin to make a positive shift.