GUEST BLOG: The tech sector needs more female role models

In this guest blog by Steve Brown, programme Manager at Next Tech Girls, Brown discusses the need for more female role models in the tech industry to encourage girls to pursue tech roles. 

Gender imbalance in technology has long been a subject of debate and while there have been numerous initiatives implemented which have been successful in encouraging more women into the industry, there is still a way to go. In fact, only 17% of the 1.46 million people employed within the sector are women. While the good work that is taking place in education institutions and technology firms separately will help move the issue along, collaboration between the two is needed in order to identify and address the true barriers for females. So what’s really stopping women choosing a career in tech and what needs to be done to overcome this?

In order to find out we went straight to the source and spoke to girls taking ICT and Computing at GCSE level to discover what they plan to do next. Interestingly, we found that many would not choose to continue with a career in tech as they believed that roles in this field require individuals to spend hours sat at a desk reading reams of code. However, we all know that the reality is far from this.

How we go about addressing this incorrect perception will, I’m sure, be a subject of continuous debate. However, at Empiric we’re very much focused on actions and have launched the Next Tech Girls initiative that aims to place 5,000 more females in tech roles in the UK by 2020.

The premise of this is simple and is what we believe will be the driver of change in the industry. By bringing together schools and companies to place more females in relevant work experience placements across the country we are able to not only address the incorrect stereotype prevalent in future female talent, but also provide companies with a vast talent pool to engage with and educate.

However, the foundation of this work is supported by the huge number of female role models who have stepped forward to inspire the future generation of women and show them that a career in tech is so much more than just coding. Among these is Nadine Thomson, UK IT Director at Vue Cinema, who is a great example of someone that possesses the tech skills needed to be successful, but hadn’t initially thought of such a career choice. Here’s her story:

“I initially went to University to become a Vet. I took computer programming as an elective subject and found it creative and interesting. The Internet and email were new technologies at the time that were gaining popularity and I could see tech was going to change our future. I switched my degree to Computer Science and I have never looked back.” Thomson said.

“I began my IT career in Australia. My first role was data entry and building a database for the Royal Children’s Hospital. I then went on to work in various technical roles before moving into management. I have experience working in a range of industries including Retail & Consumer (Travel, Beverages), Consulting, Education and Financial Services.”

The use of role models, such as Nadine, as a means to engage and inspire future females will be hugely beneficial, particularly in terms of demonstrating the variety of employment opportunities this route presents. As debates around the gender imbalance issue become increasingly heated, it can be argued that too much energy is being directed at complex solutions that aren’t addressing the root problem. In this case, a relatively simple idea can go a long way.

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The imbalance is there today, but in the 1980s when I taught Design, it was much, much worse here in the UK.  I used to invite Young Engineers into school to talk to pupils...and deliberately made sure 50% we females. It had some impact, but we struggled against parental and peer pressure...
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