Carrie Whamond, Founding Partner at Alternit One (A1) explores the need for better understanding of STEM careers and how to help support the drive for diversity within IT
Earlier this year, Business Cloud published an article stating figures from “The state of diversity in tech report 2022”, produced by Tech Nation. It was cited that only 19% of the tech workforce in the UK are women, a figure that has, unbelievably, remained unchanged since 2000. It is no secret that there has been a long-standing gender imbalance within the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). This gap has subsequently made it challenging for IT companies to fulfill commitments they would like to make to diversity in their hiring practices.
According to the Pew Research Center 2021 analysis of representation in STEM jobs, women remain underrepresented in the fields of computing. A key driver of this underrepresentation stems from higher education pipelines. In a survey carried out by ResearchGate in 2022, the organisation poses the question ‘why so few’ with regards to women in STEM, citing data showing that by the stage of graduation, women are outnumbered by men, with women earning only 20 percent of bachelor’s degrees in computer science, physics and engineering. With the level of representation of women being so low by the stage of higher education, companies are in a position whereby they are recruiting from an imbalanced talent pool of candidates. This challenge has been reflected in the fact that only 38% of women who study computer related degrees go on to work in the same field (aauw.org, 2020).
Investing in women within the IT sector is critical because diversity is inherent to driving forward innovation. Back in 2016, Harvard Business Review reported that the best teams are those that are diverse. They are more effective at problem solving and are able to portray greater points of view and expertise due to different life experiences. Now, more than ever, we need to be supporting women who want to embark in a career in STEM, and helping them get their foot up on the ladder into a career within IT. So how do we get more women into STEM subjects and ultimately into IT related careers?
Start with our education
It is essential to engage with young girls and encourage them from a school age to participate in STEM related subjects. We need to change the dynamic and reputation of technology and this is happening gradually as tech becomes so inherent in our everyday lives. However, I see that this can still be supported by influential adults who can support and nurture interest and educate young women about the opportunities that lie ahead in STEM careers. If women are inspired from a young age and believe they can pursue a career in IT, great. Leaving STEM until higher education is too late.
Be a role model
If you have a successful IT career and are happy to share your journey and experiences, look for a way to share your knowledge to young women and show them all the great things about what you do and become their inspiration. It makes a huge difference to every woman in a minority role to know they are not alone and there is a community to be part of.
Have awareness of your hiring process
Back in 2016, Speak with a Geek reported findings from an experiment that investigated the outcome of 5000 blind interviews that tested people based on their skills alone without knowing gender. The same interviews were carried out knowing gender. When the interviewer knew the gender, only 5% of women got the role. The figure shot up to 54 % of women getting the role when gender was not known. This is an example, but unconscious bias is, and has been for a long time, a real hurdle we must work to overcome.