In this guest blog post, student Abi Pearson describes how her work experience at industry body techUK made her consider a career in tech for the first time.
I am a sixteen-year-old woman and I’m nervously awaiting my GCSE results! This feels like a pretty important moment in life. Time to start thinking about life beyond school and what I could do for a career. Fortunately, I’ve been lucky enough to spend the last week doing work experience at techUK where everyone has told me that tech is a great career option for young women like me. Sounds great, but if that is true how come there are so few women working in tech? The techUK team sent me off to find out.
During my work experience I had the opportunity to meet some amazing women in tech who have really opened my eyes to the opportunity. But they have also had some very interesting things to say about why there still aren’t enough women entering and staying in the sector.
Before my time at techUK, I really didn’t know much about tech or the kinds of tech jobs that exist. Like many young women of my age, school has not really equipped me with much understanding of the types of jobs that will be available in the future. But I have discovered the IT and technology industry is one of the fastest growing sectors for employment. However, women account for less than 25% of the workforce and, according to a PwC survey, only 27% of female A-level students say they would consider a career in technology, compared to 61% of males.
So why is this? Well, before work experience my perception of tech was that it was all about sitting in an office, stuck behind a computer, surrounded by men. Beyond that, I didn’t really know what tech meant. But what I have found out is that tech is incredibly relevant to modern life, it is a sector where people are doing and learning new things every day and that there are all sorts of jobs that aren’t necessarily technical. It is definitely not all about coding, but it is generally well paid. And there is a big demand for skills. So girls are definitely missing out by not considering a career in tech.
So why don’t more girls like me go into tech? Well they say perception is reality and all the women I met this week agreed that too often young women don’t see tech as an exciting and relevant sector where they can thrive. This is partly because no one tells them about the opportunity and partly because people like me don’t see many female role models. I come from the North East and before working with techUK I hadn’t met any women who work in tech. So how are we meant to know about what we are missing out on?
I think it is time we fixed this. I would like to see more female role models made visible to young girls so that they see that tech isn’t just for men. Girls will be interested in the sector when they are inspired by women who have been successful and who obviously love their jobs.
It does work because it has happened to me during my work experience. I was blown away by the passion of entrepreneur Elizabeth Vega from Informed Solutions. I met Melissa Gourlay and Cagill Sonmez at CognitionX who said they loved their jobs working on Artificial Intelligence. I met Doniya Soni who leads the Mayor of London’s work on tech skills and thought I want to be like her. I met Sarah Atkinson from CA Technologies who made me feel like I could achieve my goals. I met Carmina Lees, MD for financial services at Accenture who was just amazing. She didn’t go to university but she is a woman who has reached the top of the tree. And finally I met Maggie Philbin, CEO of TeenTech – what an incredible woman. How lucky have I been? Thanks techUK and the wonderful India Lucas in particular!
But we won’t fix this one girl at a time. Not everyone gets the chances that I’ve had. The good news is that organisations such as WISE with its People Like Me programme are working hard to develop practical scale solutions to show girls the kind of jobs and role models that exist in the sector. But I am already 16 and no-one has ever reached out to my school and I am worried about my peers who are missing out.
I have also noticed that teachers are really not aware of the kind of jobs that exist in the tech sector. It is not their fault. They work hard under incredible pressure and I don’t get the feeling that tech businesses reach out to them enough. But if teachers don’t know, how are their pupils going to find out? It amazes me is that parents don’t understand how many well-paid jobs there are in tech and how demand for skilled people is only going to increase in the next few years. If parents understood this, they would be encouraging their children down the science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) route which is what the companies I met said is what we need. I can’t help thinking that tech businesses themselves need to show a clear pathway into tech jobs for young people and especially girls.
But as Maggie Philbin said, the problem isn’t just women coming into the sector it is also the problem of women leaving the sector. She thought that businesses need to do much more to encourage women to stay in the sector throughout their careers or return after taking time out. Talking to Carmina Lees at Accenture, this certainly seems to be an issue that her company takes very seriously. If I was looking to start my career in tech, I would definitely want to understand how my future employer supports women in their careers.
So what am I going to tell my friends when I go home? After this interesting week, meeting so many successful and inspiring women in tech I have definitely learnt one thing: if you want to have a career that is not 9-5, where you are getting out and meeting people, working on issues that are relevant to everyday life and where you are constantly learning new things and “every day is a school day” then a career in tech really could be just what you are looking for. After a week at techUK I have definitely been inspired and have realised that this could definitely be a sector for me.