How to encourage female graduates into the tech industry

Are enough women entering traditionally male-dominated industries such as IT, engineering and mathematics? And if not, how can we encourage them?

STEM careers (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) are traditionally male dominated. According to STEM Graduates only 19% of computer studies, 15% of engineering and 38% of mathematics students are female.

And with just 13% of the overall STEM workforce represented by women, any younger women aspiring to enter the industries have few role models to follow.

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Women are discouraged from bucking the trend

The figure is self-perpetuating, in that it is so low it discourages women from signing up and trying to buck the trend, because they feel the odds are stacked against them.

It’s also on a worrying downward spiral; 2015 research from the UK Commission for Employment and Skills found that the proportion of women working in the digital industry has been falling since 2002 – from 33% to 26% – compared to an overall UK average of 47%.

Why is this? One of the main barriers could be the perceived wage gap between males and females, with a commonly-quoted difference of 20% between the wages earned by males and females in the same jobs.

Companies will be forced to reveal their pay gaps

The BBC reports that the government is moving to address the issue by forcing companies of more than 250 staff to reveal their pay gaps in tables from 2017. However, this will probably be a slow process and won’t change the situations overnight – if indeed things need to be changed.

This is a worldwide discussion, and there is some debate as to whether a wage gap actually exists, and where to point the finger if it does (as an interesting aside, US factual feminist Christina H Sommers provoked much controversy and a fair bit of support in November when she tweeted: “Want to close the wage gap? Step one: Change your major from feminist dance therapy to electrical engineering.”)

Do women want to work in the tech industry?

Could it simply be that women don’t actually want to enter the tech industry? And is enough being done to encourage them? In a piece in Computerweekly.com, research was quoted that suggests simply telling women about the work that scientists, technologists and engineers achieve is not enough. Instead, reframing the conversation to show these women how their particular skills could flourish in this work environment proves to be a much more effective way of engaging them.

That’s step one. Step two is not to treat women any differently because of their gender, and promote the advantages and opportunities of a career in the tech industry compared to other sectors. This is a sector that continually grows, and changes, and evolves. It identifies problems and solves them.

There are many exciting ways to explore a digital career

There are many exciting ways to exploring the world of IT, from sitting in front of a computer at home to distance learning to degree courses.

The latter will allow you to apply for the competitive world of graduate schemes, a fast-track to gaining experience in a paid environment through employers while being mentored by company experts, and gaining a recognised qualification (you can find out more here).

You’ll notice that link features the story of Meg, and BGL is by no means alone in trying to promote its schemes to a female audience. As it should – just because some roles are viewed as more suitable for one sex doesn’t mean it is correct, or that it should stay that way. The more females who move into the industry and show that women are perfectly suited to it, the more will follow their lead – and the less of a talking point it will become.

Want to explore the potential of a digital career? Find out how one woman has set up a coding school for mums

By business writer Patrick Vernon