Intervene early to reverse gender imbalance in tech

A London roundtable on the under-representation of women in the technology sector concluded that – in addition to changes in work culture – attitudes towards technical careers must be challenged from the nursery onwards.

The roundtable was hosted by HP, and chaired by the Fawcett Society: the UK’s leading membership charity fighting for gender equality which is preparing to launch a commission to investigate the impact of gender norms and stereotypes in early childhood. Among others, the roundtable included George Brasher (managing director for HP in the UK and Ireland), Vicky Ford (Conservative MP and member of the Science and Technology Select Committee), and Joanna McCartney (Deputy Mayor of London).

Sam Smethers, CEO of the Fawcett Society, told E&T that occupational segregation severely impacts the pay gap between men and women, which was reported this month to be 9.6 per cent at large companies this year. Jobs in male-dominated professions such as tech and engineering tend to provide much more generous compensation than jobs in female-dominated professions such as nursing and teaching.

“Also, at the most fundamental level, if you only recruit from half the population you’re not getting the best brains into the industry,” she said. “We know that [the tech industry] is going to be the engine of the future, that’s why we have to get it right.”

Roundtable attendees discussed how educational change, industrial change, and change in culture could redress the stark gender disparity in the tech sector.

A report published by the Tech Talent Charter in January found that women hold just 18 per cent of technical roles in UK businesses. Representation is even lower within certain areas, such as in the defence sector and in computing; figures published last year by the Department for Education showed that fewer than 10 per cent of students taking A-Level computer science were young women.

“It’s really dire when you look at [women in] computer studies, and we’ve got a long way to go in terms of physics. We have the lowest number of women engineers of any country in Europe, and that is completely unacceptable,” said Ford, before leaving the roundtable to return to Parliament. “We’ve still got a lot of work to do.”

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