Women in STEM: how the UK should bridge the gender gap in tech

Not too long ago, we marked ‘Equal Pay Day’, an annual event that symbolises how far into the year women must work to earn the same amount that men did in the previous year. Gender inequality affects most industries, yet it is most apparent in the technology industry, where there are even less women making up the workforce.

In fact, according to the Office for National Statistics, women currently account for only 16.8% of workers in the UK’s tech sector, with the Inclusive Tech Alliance calculating that close to 1m women must be hired for the UK’s tech industry to reach gender parity.

With technology being one of the biggest and fastest growing industries in the world, it’s a shame that such an exciting and innovative industry is still lagging behind in terms of gender diversity.

Building the opportunity for women

Research shows that girls are already outperforming boys in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) subjects in school, and data from UCAS reveals that in England, young women are 36% more likely to apply to university than young men.

However, a survey last year suggested that ‘a lack of skills, alongside lack of self-assurance’ meant women pursued alternative careers to those in the technology industry, despite the clear aptitude shown throughout education.

Why is this? It could partly be down to the need for more female role models. Unfortunately, historically there has been a lack of female role models in all areas of business, but particularly in technology where, at senior level just 16% of people are female, dropping to 10% at executive level.

There are, of course,  some incredible women working in the tech industry, such as Martha Lane Fox, cross-bench peer and founder of responsible tech organisation doteveryone.org.uk, and Dr Anne- Marie Imafidon MBE, an incredible talent and co-founder of Stemmettes. However, we need to do more across all levels of business to show that technology is an attractive career where female candidates can thrive.

As a woman that has been working in the industry for over five years now, it is a sector that never ceases to impress me. It is simultaneously cutting-edge, ambitious, creative and thought-provoking. It’s a sector that is constantly evolving, and it’s important that we ensure that strong female talent plays a valid role in the sector’s future growth and innovation.

Education first

It should be a requirement to inspire the future tech workforce at the earliest stage, when young people are the most impressionable.

Currently, the British Interactive Media Association (BIMA) annually runs BIMA Digital Day, where digital professionals visit schools to inspire school children across the country about the fantastic opportunities for young people in the digital sector.

Whilst this is a step in the right direction, the UK government should be implementing more initiatives such as this that prioritise STEM subjects as building pathways – for both boys and girls – to successful careers of the future – from scientists to developers and engineers.

As well as this, it should also be crucial to educate children – throughout their entire time in school – that gender stereotypes in the workplace are redundant.

Young girls need to know that women can be just as strong and smart and successful as men in any subject or career.

Reshaping business

Education is just one piece of the puzzle. It is also the responsibility for STEM businesses to ensure that the workplace is accessible to women and they are being offered equal opportunities to succeed and thrive. Currently, only 22% of women hold senior management roles in the UK – below the global average of 24%, which itself is still an unacceptable figure.

There are many reasons why women are struggling to crack this ‘glass ceiling’ of advancement in business. Aside from the ruthless working cultures that prevail, many businesses are still lagging behind when it comes to providing a flexible work/life balance or maternity cover.

In fact, a survey conducted by PwC last year revealed that 37% of women did not take full maternity leave due to career pressure, whilst 48% said they were overlooked for career advancement because they had children.

At Taptica, we operate as a meritocracy, cultivating talent from an early stage to motivate and encourage staff – regardless of gender, age, race, sexuality or disability – to progress and stay with the business. We’re proud that 70% of senior management are female, and that we operate an open-door policy and flexible working environment to allow people to thrive in their personal lives as well as their careers. I am lucky that the tech environments that have shaped my career so far have all been inclusive.

This is not the case for many women who are starting their careers in the tech sector and have come across many barriers to success. We have a long way to go to establish gender diversity in the tech workforce.

With Brexit on the horizon, this could pose another threat to the UK tech sector altogether. Educating both young men and women at an early stage about the benefits and opportunities in STEM careers is the first step to safeguarding our technology industry’s future.

However, we must remember that it is also up to the tech businesses themselves to provide a working environment that is inclusive, flexible and champions employees to work hard and succeed throughout their careers, regardless of gender.