Be the role model you didn’t have: inspiring more young women into tech
The new BSc Computer Science programme launched by the University of London in partnership with member institution Goldsmiths and online learning platform Coursera, has attracted more than 1,200 students in less than a year. While more than half of the students are men, reflecting the industry as a whole, we spoke to four female students who are actively encouraging more women to consider tech. Here they explain why they aren’t letting the lack of industry role models put them off pursuing their passions.
The issue of lack of diversity in the global tech workforce is nothing new. Statistics are published on a yearly basis showing little improvement in the representation of women and ethnic minorities. A 2019 study by PwC reported that more than a quarter of female A-Level and university students stated they had been put off a career in technology because it was ‘too male dominated’. Fewer than 25% could name a famous woman working in tech, compared to two thirds who could name a famous man.
One thing I’ve learned from being a woman in the workplace is you absolutely cannot be your own worst enemy – the moment you realise you have a talent for something you have to just go for it.
Now four female students explain why they think more women need to stand up and be role models for the next generation of computer scientists.
Abigail Tatiana Gomes Leitao works full-time as a tech recruiter in London. While she was already familiar with the wide range of roles available in the sector, her own interest in computer science began with an ‘Introduction to Python’ course offered by her employer.
“For me, the best thing about tech is that it’s a massive puzzle and it just keeps on changing. What you learn today will change tomorrow and that keeps it exciting.
“Being in the minority as a woman can make you feel intimidated of course. It’s actually something I’m used to because I was the only girl studying physics in my class at college. My advice to other women is don’t let the male dominance put you off. You can be a good role model for others if you aren’t afraid to stand up and challenge the stigma.”
Computer science is a wildly creative discipline and the University of London programme is so exciting because of the expertise from Goldsmiths in bridging those two worlds.
Despite an early interest in computers, US student Liz McCann admits she saw herself as an ‘artsy person’ rather than a ‘techy person’ and felt you shouldn’t focus on both creative and STEM subjects.
“I think one of the biggest challenges in getting more women into tech is that we start to partition off the human experience in terms of our skills from a very young age. I was really interested in computers and maths but somehow I just attached myself to the idea that there were techy people and there were creative people and I chose to follow a creative route. Actually, computer science is a wildly creative discipline and the University of London programme is so exciting because of the expertise from Goldsmiths in bridging those two worlds.
“Self-doubt and imposter syndrome can have an significant impact on women and people of colour. One thing I’ve learned from being a woman in the workplace is you absolutely cannot be your own worst enemy – the moment you realise you have a talent for something you have to just go for it.”
Having completed the Google Professional Certificate, Lauren McClure decided to move from hospitality to a new career in tech. She now works full-time as an e-learning specialist for a non-profit organisation in Canada while completing her degree.
Tech is being developed every day that is aimed at girls, women, mothers – and the industry needs more women working in it to make sure that tech is fit for purpose.
“I liked computers as a kid and even built my own website but I couldn’t see myself in the industry – it just seemed so male dominated. Now I realise just how huge the sector is and I started asking myself, ‘why wouldn’t there be a place for me?’
“In fact if you do a bit of research you’ll find women have been in this field since it began. Ada Lovelace, Grace Hopper, Margaret Hamilton – there are so many phenomenal women who have done amazing things. The fact is, tech is being developed every day that is aimed at girls, women, mothers – and the industry needs more women working in it to make sure that tech is fit for purpose. I would say to other young women: your opinions and your unique experience are marketable and make you highly valuable in this field.”
I often hear from other women, ‘oh it’s just not possible for me to study now I have children’, and it’s true it can be challenging… But if you’re studying something you’re passionate about it doesn’t feel like a burden.
Amsterdam-based Aleksandra Bal works full-time as a senior product manager for a tax technology company while also raising her two young children. She thinks too many women are put off further study due to the demands of balancing work and family.
“I already have a PhD in International Tax Law and an Executive MBA and I’m a firm believer that people need to have more than one education these days. You don’t have to want to be a coder yourself to take this degree – almost every profession now relies on tech and you will very likely work with developers in the future so having some technical knowledge yourself will help.
“I often hear from other women, ‘oh it’s just not possible for me to study now I have children’, and it’s true it can be challenging. I have a three year old and a four year old – both of whom were born while I was studying my MBA. But if you’re studying something you’re passionate about it doesn’t feel like a burden. I’m already seeing tangible benefits – as a result of the ‘Introduction to Programming’ module I’ve built my own computer game and now my sons say their favourite game was made by mama!”
Find out how you can inspire and be inspired by other female computer scientists with a BSc in Computer Science from the University of London.