In this guest post, Jo Morfee, co-founder of Innovate Her, discusses the UK’s digital skills pipeline and how to encourage more girls to be part of it
One of the main factors impeding technology companies globally is the lack of pipeline talent, which is compounded by a widening gender diversity gap in the sector. In the UK, just 20% of Computing Science GCSE’s are female, falling to 10% at A-level.
Girls lack the confidence to apply the subject due to negative gender stereotypes surrounding technology; girls are often told that computing is for boys. They’re told that they have softer skills which are better suited to care giving roles such as nursing or communications related professions. In a recent survey, 29% of male teachers said that they would not recommend a Stem career to a female pupil. Parents often believe that a male dominated industry is not a place for their daughter to thrive. As a result, girls need more positive encouragement to consider a career in tech.
To help address these issues, we recognised the need to create a new innovative approach to educating girls about technology, working closely with industry partners. In 2017, we launched our Innovate Her schools-based programme for teens, after a period of testing the model at FACT in Liverpool. We had 90 applications for just 15 places for the pilot programme, from all over the country and as far as Jersey, Wales and Devon. We were blown away by the response, which clearly demonstrated that girls had an appetite to learn digital skills.
During our eight week course, girls between the ages of 11 and 17 are taught a key technical skill and are introduced to positive role models from industry. When a young person engages with an employer they are 86% less likely to become Neet (Not in Education, Employment or Training), so we include a trip to a local digital or tech company.
We work with them to build their confidence and self-esteem and coach them in their career options and pathways, showcasing apprenticeships and internships alongside degree options. We tailor this to their specific interests and needs using our industry knowledge. The content is creative, interactive and hands-on, which results in lots of engagement. The girls value the opportunity to form friendships that may last a lifetime. It’s important to create communities of girls who continue to support one another; many of our alumni now attend hackathons together across the North West. We’re passionate about working within schools in disadvantaged postcode areas too, to ensure that these opportunities are available to all, regardless of background or identity.
I recently interviewed a 15-year-old participant from our first programme. None of her peers at the all-girls school she attends are engaged with gaming or tech, so she feels like an outsider. In fact, she has to attend the boys school next door to go to her computing science class, where she is the only girl. Unfortunately, she feels that the subject is “too computational, way too academic and I don’t think it’s creative at all.” This is how we are losing talent early on; there is no creative digital option at GCSE level and even computing science is not widely available; only 40% of schools in Liverpool offer it. However, following a week’s work experience at SONY, which we arranged for her after the programme, she told me she would now love to become a games developer.
We will continue to work closely with our industry partners and local schools to create the change we want to see in the world for the next generation of innovators. We see ourselves as the conduit, building bridges between industry and education. It will take time to see the results of our efforts, but we’re in it for the long haul and we’re all in it together.