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The problems standing in the way of girls in the UK choosing science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) careers is “rooted in society”, according to Michael Keegan, chairman and head of product business for Fujitsu in Europe, the Middle East, Africa and India (EMEAI).
He says many of the societal biases that put girls off of choosing Stem subjects begin at schools, and this needs to be tackled to prevent girls getting “overwhelmingly pushed” away from tech and towards more humanitarian subjects.
“I think we have some societal biases in schools which we need to correct, whereby we see all-girl language A-level classes without a single boy in them and all the boys doing physics and maths,” he says.
Role models and education
More than half of teachers in the UK have admitted to gender stereotyping Stem subjects, and only a small percentage of parents want their kids to become tech entrepreneurs.
The uptake of students choosing to take computer science A-Levels is not increasing at the pace needed for the future, and any increase in the number of girls taking the subject is marginal.
To begin to rectify this problem, Keegan said the industry should engage more with schools and provide successful role models to encourage girls into Stem subjects.
“We need to make sure our young girls and women are encouraged to take more Stem subjects when they go through to sixth form, and that they are not seen as reserved just for boys,” he says.
Many young women claim they would like to see more role models in the technology industry to encourage them into Stem subjects, and Fujitsu ensures there are role models both inside and outside the company who talk to people and help them understand what tech roles involve.
Keegan claimed there are “plenty” of role models in the technology industry for young women to look up to, including, but not limited to, Meg Whitman, the CEO of HPE, and Regina Moran, Fujitsu’s UK&I CEO.
“We’re not doing any of this because we think this is a box-ticking exercise,” he says. “It’s a business reason. We know that if we are more diverse and inclusive as an employer, we’ll make better decisions.”
Benefits of diversity
Increasing the diversity of an organisation has been proven to make it more productive and innovative.
Keegan says it is beneficial for firms to ensure they are encouraging diversity to better reflect their customer bases, which is especially diverse in the technology industry since tech has become an integral part of everyone’s lives.
There has also been a big focus in recent years on increasing the number of women in the technology industry – but increasing diversity as a whole is just as important.
“We know our customers are a lot more diverse, and if we want to serve them we need to have more women at every level,” he says. “We need more gay people, we need more disabled people and we need to be more inclusive for the BAME [Black, Asian, and minority ethnic] community. That’s really important because it’s what being a modern tech company is all about.”
One of the ways firms can ensure diverse hiring, as Keegan has told Computer Weekly before, is to make sure those in the position to hire look “more actively” for diverse talent, as well as support women and minority groups.
“The men have also got to be more encouraging,” he says. “I think we need to create workspaces that women feel much more included and supported in, to try to build up more confidence in the workplace for women to be seen as successful and able to get to the top of business.”
Fujitsu has committed to aiming to have 30% of roles in its UK business filled with women by 2020, and its recruitment for apprentices is already almost 50/50.
Creativity versus automation
Creativity is becoming increasingly important for technology roles, and Keegan stated creativity is an important part of innovation.
Promoting creativity by “being able to fuse art with innovation” could also be used to attract a more diverse workforce, says Keegan. “By making something very technical, you can put large parts of a potential audience off. As you get more artistic and creative, you draw more people in.”
Encouraging more creativity in the tech workplace has also been cited as a good way to avoid job automation, and he says that as more things become automated, those coming into the tech industry will need to gain new skills to fill the new roles that pop up for humans.
Skills will have to be at a higher or more emotionally intelligent level for people to retain roles, and opportunities for humans will have “more value”.
“What it means for people is that you need to keep your skills up to date – particularly in a world where we will all have a greater chance of living to 100 and probably be working well into our 60s – if not our 70s,” says Keegan.
“The need to reskill and relearn is going to be something humans are going to have to get used to and adapt to, because their environments changed,” he says.
Keegan stresses the importance of collaboration for ensuring students, teachers and parents understand this need for a shift towards continuous learning – and Fujitsu engages with many universities, schools and colleges to ensure young people know what is required of particular industries and roles.