Supporting and encouraging greater female participation in digital technology could open up a rich seam of talent to support Scotland’s digital future, according to research behind an action plan to address the gender imbalance.
Over the years the number of women working in digital technology roles has declined, but more recently there have been improvements. Research completed on behalf of Scotland’s Digital Technology Skills Group found that women remain underrepresented, accounting for 18 per cent of the workforce.
The report, Tackling the Gender Technology Gap Together, highlights a prime opportunity to tackle the skills gap and attract more women into digital technology roles through targeted intervention and on-going support at every stage of the skills pipeline, from school to employment and retention.
The Digital Technologies Skills Group has formed a gender work stream, chaired by Evelyn Walker of Hewlett Packard Enterprise, which is developing a dedicated action plan to help take advantage of the opportunities to encourage females into the sector.
Actions currently in development include greater and improved use of role models in schools, extending the reach of technology into other subjects, promoting the benefits of gender parity and flexible workplaces, and supporting employers to attract, retain and promote female participation.
The Digital Technologies Skills Group will also continue to ensure that it engages girls and women across all of its initiatives including the Digital Xtra Fund for extracurricular computing projects.
Researchers found that many young girls at school look positively at digital technology subjects and careers, and the majority of those studying computing science described it as interesting, important and enjoyable. This suggests that by raising awareness of the opportunities in an inspirational and credible way there is significant opportunity to attract girls into technology education and careers.
Evelyn Walker says: “Addressing the gender imbalance will not be a short term issue and significant work will be required by a range of stakeholders including education, industry and public agencies.
“Initiatives such as extracurricular coding groups, mentoring schemes, and the Digital World campaign which is raising awareness and changing perceptions of digital technology careers, are making progress but we need to do more and refine our strategies to reach more females, more effectively.
“The imbalance starts while girls are in school so it is important that solutions are developed to tackle this issue from early years onwards. However, attracting more females to enter digital technology careers is only part of the solution. Women should be encouraged to remain in the sector and to progress into interesting, rewarding and senior roles.”
The review of research, undertaken by Edinburgh Napier University, found that girls make up 20 per cent of pupils studying National 5 Computing Science in school and 16 per cent of those pursuing computing degrees at university.
The majority of female students taking computing courses at university aspire to work in the sector after graduation. The industry also attracts women from other backgrounds – around half of women in digital roles come from non-tech backgrounds such as creative arts, business studies and natural studies.
Evelyn Walker continued: “The research indicates that there are a lot of females who are open to the idea of working in tech. To turn that willingness into a real increase in the number of women in our sector we need to reach, support inspire them to take the next steps.