Women have had a long and proud history in STEM. Female programmers were instrumental in our mission to the moon. Code breaking women were essential to the Bletchley Park war effort. Ada Lovelace is remembered as the world’s first computer programmer. Katie Bouman developed the algorithm that enabled us to see a black hole for the first time. And, much closer to home, Microsoft’s own Jennifer Chayes directs three Research labs, helping the company shape its vision for technologies such as AI and cloud computing.
However, despite this long history, and the amazing work done by #WomenInTech, only 17 percent of the tech industry in the UK is female, with just five percent in leadership roles.
We are in the midst of the fourth industrial revolution, and the very nature of work is changing as we implement AI, IoT, and more into our daily lives. But the UK is facing a digital skills gap. And to stay economically competitive, we need to ensure we have a stream of talented people to fill these roles.
The only way we can do this is to encourage more women to consider a career in STEM.
Gain interest from a young age
Microsoft research shows that girls disengage with STEM careers at around the age 11, stating a lack of ‘role models’ and ‘practical, hands-on experience’ as the main factors. So we need to do a better job of encouraging girls to consider a career in STEM and the tech industry.
“The research reveals that we can’t afford to wait until girls are thinking about university courses to foster their interest in STEM,” said Cindy Rose, Chief Executive of Microsoft UK. “To stop the drop-off in interest in STEM, we’re working with governments, teachers and non-profits to modernise the curriculum and provide better access to mentors.”
It’s important to be involved in programmes that encourage STEM and digital skills from a young age. For example, Microsoft employees get involved with DigiGirlz, a programme designed to inspire girls to consider STEM careers.
We also need to share and celebrate the role models who paved the way for technology, especially those we might know, work with, or interact with online. By sharing the stories of how these inspirational women how have helped shape our future, we can inspire more girls to do the same.
Ways to diversify your talent pool
By putting equality at the heart of your hiring process, you are not only be promoting mental health and well-being, but also making yourself more appealing to the most talented women in tech. (60 percent of girls said they’d be confident in pursuing a digital career with a company that promoted equality.) And according to the European Commission, if we had as many women as men in the digital jobs market, the EU GDP would be boosted by €9 billion.
We want more women from a range of diverse backgrounds and abilities to be inspired by a potential career in technology. And this requires an understanding that not only is it open to them but it can help them achieve their goals, whatever they may be.
– Cindy Rose
By having inclusive hiring programmes you can ensure you get a diverse group of applicants. This can be as simple as the wording on your job description, or supporting women-focussed initiatives and organisations. Offering flexible working will also attract more diverse range of talent – 81 percent of people say a flexible job is more attractive to them. And flexible working and post-maternity support will help women looking to return to work, too. In fact, 70 percent of women returning to the tech sector after a career break believe programmes that include training and mentorships are key to overcoming re-entry challenges.
Creating an environment that welcomes and treats everyone equally is vital to ensure your organisation’s future success. By being the drivers of change, you will enrich the lives of your employees. And you will create an empowering future, where everyone can achieve more.