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Collaboration is essential in dispelling “deeply ingrained” gender career stereotypes

O2’s HR director Ann Pickering urges collaboration between government, schools and business to break down tech industry barriers

Collaboration between schools, parents, business and the government is essential in breaking down biases about careers that children learn from a young age, according to O2’s HR director Ann Pickering.

At the annual O2 Women in Leadership event, Pickering said children form “deeply ingrained attitudes to certain careers” from a young age. She called for more to be done to tackle these stereotypes to help develop a more diverse tech industry.

“We’ve got to start early on in primary schools to make it OK and cool for girls, as well as boys, to do what are more male-oriented roles. [We must] get them involved in tech so they don’t know any different,” said Pickering.

To solve the inequality issue in the tech industry, Pickering told Computer Weekly the UK should begin to dispel industry stereotypes from a young age to encourage more kids into science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) subjects.

“We must sure tech is not seen as anything other than what everybody does. If there aren’t enough girls in the early stages interested in science and tech, then it’s no surprise there aren’t any women later on in these industries,” she said.

Many in the technology and education sectors are focused on increasing collaboration between sectors, as it helps to ensure children are learning the skills the industry will need them to have in the future.

“I think it will slowly change over time, that’s why it’s got to be a collaboration between parents, education, business and government,” said Pickering.

“The collaboration piece is really important, I don’t think schools or the government can do it in isolation, it’s got to be a joint effort.”

Pickering also cited social media as a “powerful way” to spread positive messages about tech careers to young people and women.

Read more about diversity in technology

  • The winner of Computer Weekly’s most influential woman in UK IT award, Maggie Philbin, says the IT industry should focus on wider diversity as opposed to just gender equality
  • Research by Tech London Advocates finds that only 23% of technology companies have gender diverse teams at senior management level.

Part of the discussion at the conference was focused on equality and inclusion in organisations, and Pickering urged people to “call out behaviour that’s not good enough”.

“Companies need to create environments where people can be great parents as well as great employees,” she said.

“We all know that diverse thinking makes a big difference, and O2 has 25 million customers out there to serve.”

Jo Swinson, former minister for women and equalities, said the tech industry should create an environment where men also feel comfortable asking for flexible working.

“There are a lot of men in the workplace who are quite unhappy because they’re not allowed to be the fathers they’d like to be – they feel like they don’t have that permission,” she said.

Many people are still digitally excluded with no access to technology skills and more jobs are requiring digital skills, meaning that technology and digital are now part of most businesses as opposed to being separate industries.

“If you create a situation where tech is exclusively male and has a culture associated with that, that’s going to be detrimental to other businesses,” said Swinson.

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