A Scottish charity which encourages young people to pursue careers in tech has warned businesses that gender imbalance must be tackled at a grassroots level.
Gender imbalance is a huge challenge for the digital technology sector, according to Digital Xtra Fund, with women accounting for less than one-quarter (23%) of the Scottish tech workforce.
In order to tackle the growing problem, the charity is urging businesses to play their part – advising that the best way to address the imbalance is through inspiring more girls and young women early on.
With young women making up only 20% of pupils studying National 5 Computing Science in Scottish secondary schools, Kraig Brown, Partnership & Development Manager at Digital Xtra Fund, says this statistic must be a point of focus for companies and academic institutions going forward.
“It is essential we inspire more girls to get into tech from primary school, leading to increased uptake in secondary and, therefore, more women completing Higher and Further Education with a variety of technology-related qualifications,” Brown says.
“Only by focussing on the talent pipeline from the beginning can we make a tangible difference in the end. However, despite considerable effort, we simply do not have enough computing science teachers to reach the level of engagement required to achieve this, and these numbers are getting worse.”
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In 2008, there were more than 760 computing teachers in Scottish secondary schools, while in 2017, there were only 582 – a reduction of 24%. More needs to be done out of the classroom to support teachers and engage more young women and girls in tech, Brown insists.
“We need to show young women what is possible and make it fun by supporting accessible and relatable activities. Taking tech out of the classroom can also help make the link from something they enjoy and is important to them, to a future career,” he says.
Recent research has shown that girls are more likely to engage with STEM subjects when there is an obvious benefit to society of their communities. This has led to a higher proportion of women in life sciences and medicine than in other areas of science and technology, Brown explains.
Currently, the charity is supporting several initiatives aimed at engaging young women and girls, including Glasgow Life, who are targeting young women by combining technology with fashion and design. Similarly, Banchory Primary School in Clackmannanshire who are combining coding and robotics with music and dance.
Another initiative at Firpark Secondary School in North Lanarkshire features an all-female VEX robotics after-school club.
Programmes such as these have an enormous role to play in inspiring the next generation of female ‘techies’, Brown adds. Boosting collaboration between education and industry will be a key component in addressing the industry’s gender imbalance.
“It is also important we improve the links between education and industry to ensure these young women, their parents, and teachers have the opportunity to understand the range of rewarding job opportunities in the tech sector. These links also give girls and young women the opportunity to see and speak with women currently in these roles to act as examples and mentors,” he says.
Organisations such as SWiT (Scotland Women in Technology), are playing a crucial role in the battle. So far, the organisation has partnered with Digital Xtra Fund to support a host of activities targeting young women and girls – SWiT also raised funds contributing towards a donation of £5,000 to the charity this year, Brown acknowledges.
Elaine McKechnie, Vice Chair for SWiT, commented: “We are delighted to support such a great cause for women and young girls in Scotland that can really impact a positive shift in gender for the future workforce. The Digital Xtra Fund is exactly the type of organisation we’re proud to partner with as part of the Scottish ecosystem to encourage more women in tech.”