Why do we need more women in tech?

Written by Joanna Wake, Managing Director at RAW Digital Training

If we need more women in tech now, we will certainly need more women in tech in the future.

According to analysis by Tech City UK and innovation charity Nesta, the UK’s digital tech industries grew 32% faster than the rest of the UK economy. Their report also stressed that the UK’s digital tech economy is creating new industries and transforming existing ones. The huge increase in vacancies is not just native digital roles (vacancies within companies which are primarily digital by nature), almost half of jobs (41%) in our digital tech economy are in traditionally non-digital industries.

The 2016 report from Tech Nation highlighted that 80% of areas in the UK have seen growth in digital turnover, digital jobs and advertised digital salaries. A report by O2 said that 2 million digital skilled workers will be needed by 2020 in order to fulfil the UK’s digital potential. Amazing opportunities ahead for our young people in these fantastic, exciting, game changing and dynamic careers!

But where are all the women?

A career in the digital tech sector is financially rewarding, the average advertised salary in digital roles is 36% higher than the national average salary, just under £50,000. However, companies are increasingly struggling to recruit.

In the digital industries, just 26% of jobs are held by women. In IT the stat is even more alarming, at 16%. Our pipeline isn’t looking healthier either; just 17% of all computer science students are female. This means that in three years time, we could be looking at exactly the same statistics with women in IT. This troubles me enormously!

Research from industry body CompTia identifies a key cause of females not entering tech careers,’Girls lack awareness about career opportunities – Of girls who have not considered an IT career, 69% attribute this to not knowing what opportunities are available to them.’

Thankfully, positive moves are being made to reverse this trend. The tech partnership for example, run the TechFuture women’s network, bringing the expertise of over 600 tech professionals to inspire young girls into educational and career pathways in these sectors.

It warmed my heart at a recent digital skills event for college students, I spoke at length with a young lady who was one of only two females in her class. There was an awesome female lecturer who teaches cyber security.

CompTia suggest, ‘Girls need role models in the industry – Just 37% of girls know of someone with an IT job.’ We need more females in tech posts to inspire girls into these skilled sectors.

The current landscape

Digital skills are increasingly vital in everyone’s lives. It’s estimated around 90% of all jobs over the next 20 years will require some level of digital skills, so we need to make sure they’re at the heart of our education system.

Earlier in 2015, I had the pleasure of being involved in Martha Lane-Foxes’ Tech 5050 programme, focused on mentoring female entrepreneurs in Tech. Initiatives like this help enormously in elevating and inspiring female tech professionals.

As the owner of a digital skills training agency, we have worked hard to be able to extend our delivery the training we offer to businesses onto to young people. This year we’ve seen our first programmes of training delivered to those who are unemployed or not in education, and thankfully we’ve seen a great balance of females accessing the courses. Better still, the progression rates into employment or education, are fantastic, digital careers being the end achievement.

We as a company are delivering short impactful digital skills courses to young unemployed people, and we’re having a great intake and results. There are two different aspects to digital creative and then the analytical, developer and cyber security style roles.

This really just is the start though. A large gap remains in upskilling existing employees across all industries. Competition will rise amongst non digital companies to digitise fast, not only will these companies need to hire digital roles in the future, but the need to upskill their existing staff is urgent. The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee recently published a report stating that the digital skills gap was costing the UK economy £63 billion a year in lost GDP.

This is recognised by government, a recent report by the parliamentary Science and Technology select committee state that, ‘As digital skills increasingly become the foundation of a competitive economy, businesses need to invest in digital training to increase productivity and stimulate innovation, or we risk the UK being left behind.’ and that The imperative for businesses to develop the digital skills of their employees is now a matter of survival.’

Digital skills are needed now in both our current and future workforces. These skills need to be nurtured in females and dramatically improve the pipeline of women in tech.

This post first appeared on the PwC North East blog here.


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