That there’s a lack of diversity in tech isn’t new. Neither is the fact that the male/female ratio in STEM education is far from even. Just 7% of girls move into higher STEM programmes against 24% of boys.
Why is this? A study released this week by Accenture found participation is held back by gender stereotypes. A study from community interest company WISE called Not for People Like Me found that a lot of the messaging used to try to get more girls into STEM education just aren’t talking to them in the right way. However, a new digital initiative is looking to fix this.
People Like Me
The People Like Me initiative explains why girls feel at odds with the STEM industry and how to get them interested and excited about potentially working in this sector in a way that speaks to them.
Aimed mainly at girls aged 11-14, it looks to increase the percentage of girls sticking with STEM courses post-16 - whether that’s in higher education or more vocational/apprenticeship-based streams - by showing them which careers would suit their self-identified attributes, and use role models from partner companies to help encourage any interest in these fields.
“There are so many messages telling them [girls] this isn't for them,” said Helen Wollaston, CEO of the WISE campaign. “So they need to have their interest nurtured in a more sustained way."
Research by King’s College London suggests children whose parents or close family are qualified or work in STEM are more likely to show an interest in the subjects and continue to study them.
“My mission is to get a positive message to those millions of girls who do not have a father who is in this or somebody in the close family to nurture their interest. That's what we need to do.”
“We want to get girls interested, connect them to people who will nurture that interest and to opportunities in their local community.”
The digital version of the programme was launched last week during an event at Ditton Manor. CA Technologies is the first partner for the scheme, which WISE would like to roll out to 200,000 female students across the UK over the next five years. Companies that partner with the campaign will train role models up to 7,000 that will deliver 20,000 sessions to girls.
“There's too many girls that have the talent and attributes that the industry needs not getting enough help,” said Wollaston, who called for more companies to join the campaign and use it as opportunity to showcase the successful women within their organisations.
Diversity makes good business sense
To emphasise the importance of the campaign, the business case for greater diversity was a major theme at the event.
“It's urgent, it's now, we need the talent,” said Jacqueline de Rojas, President of TechUK and MD of Sage UK. “We need to make sure if we are going to put our best foot forward as that digital nation of significance, that talent pool has to support it. And getting girls into STEM is a really great way to that."
“Why do we need diversity in that talent pool? There is a business reason why we want to do this,” said De Rojas. “Simply, we don't have enough talent. We are growing so fast that we are creating technology jobs that we simply can't fill with the current talent pool.”
Current estimates put the annual STEM skills shortfall at around 69,000 workers per year. Gender parity of girls and boys moving into higher STEM programmes could equal up to an extra 50,000 workers a year entering the STEM workforce.
“There is a slowdown of technology talent coming from overseas, and that's likely not to get better anytime soon, and so we do have to promote our own talent pool must faster with a much bigger sense of urgency than we did before, and it has to be inclusive.”
De Rojas emphasised that studies show diverse teams are more productive, collaborative, and have better outcomes. Research from Gallup and the Journal of Economics & Management Strategy suggest diverse companies make more money and perform better than the industry average for their segments.
“We cannot seize our opportunity to become a digital nation of significance unless we support the growth of our technology industry with the right talent and skills.”
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