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Just how important are role models? I found myself asking the question when I received a press release concerning the 2019 FDM everywoman in Technology Awards.
The awards, which are split into nine categories, are part of everywoman and FDM’s mission to “Achieve, Elevate and Inspire”. And there’s a lot to do given that only 17% of workers in the UK tech industry are female and only 27% of female students would consider a career in technology, compared to 61% of male students.
Technology suffers from a shocking gender gap. And it starts in school. Only 35% of girls continue to study STEM subjects beyond GCSE level, compared to 80% of boys.
The aim of the awards is to recognise and celebrate successful women in the IT industry and provide role models for young girls that will, hopefully, encourage them to pursue a career in IT. The awards span all parts of a career from school-level to apprentice to team leader to international inspiration.
According to everywoman, the lack of visible female role models is one of the biggest causes of gender imbalance in the UK’s technology workforce. This is not an issue that will have exercised the 83% of male workers in the tech industry because nearly all the visible role models in the IT industry share their gender.
And because male role models are so visible, they’ve become invisible in that no one talks about them as “male role models” even though that’s what they are. Instead, they’re just models of successful IT leaders that happen to be male. All 90 whatever percent of them.
But if you look at it from the other side of the gender divide, where only a handful of successful leaders share your gender, you might appreciate just how hard it is to be attracted to that industry as a place where you’d like to work and make a successful career. There’s only one way to fix that.
As Sheridan Ash, founder of The Tech She Can Charter puts it: “You can’t be what you can’t see! From our research we know 78% of students we surveyed couldn’t name a famous female working in technology. To get more females interested in technology as a viable career option we need to shout louder about the role models already working in tech.”
She’s right, of course. There’s going to have to be quite a bit of shouting before the gender gap starts to narrow. And it’s only when female role models have become so visible that they’re invisible that the shouting can end.