Correcting misconceptions: time to close the tech sector gender gap
With latest workforce data revealing that women make up less than 20% of the IT sector in the UK, and just 25% in the US, the industry is working hard to encourage more diversity. We’ve spoken to two senior computer scientists about why more young women should join the tech revolution.
The University of London, in partnership with member institution Goldsmiths, University of London and online learning platform Coursera, has launched a new BSc Computer Science programme, with the first session starting in April this year.
In addition to core computer science skills the course offers a choice of cutting-edge specialisms such as machine learning, artificial intelligence, and virtual reality. Online teaching is combined with practical activities and projects to give students the hands-on experience they’ll need for their future career.
Dr Rebecca Fiebrink and Julie Allinson, who are both senior computer scientists, feel passionately that it’s a career more women should consider.
A computer science degree will give you the technical skills to accomplish something that’s important to you. It’s never boring.
Dr Fiebrink is a Senior Lecturer in Computing at Goldsmiths, University of London. But despite an early interest in programming she hadn’t even considered a career in the field until she spoke to a careers counsellor.
“I grew up playing video games with my dad and learned how to programme for fun when I was in high school making fan fiction websites and animations for my friends. And yet I didn’t see myself as a technologist. Just having someone give me permission to imagine myself in that role was life-changing.”
She believes misconceptions about the tech sector can put some people off and wants to emphasise the enormous range of careers available.
“Technology is not just for geeks. You’re engaged in creative thought all the time and the most successful computer scientists are those who like working in social, dynamic environments – and who understand and can communicate with others.
“People wrongly assume that to love computer science you just have to love technology and nothing else. But computer science can be applied to anything. It can be applied to helping your community or saving the planet. A computer science degree will give you the technical skills to accomplish something that’s important to you. It’s never boring.”
There’s a perception of the tech sector being full of young men wearing scruffy t-shirts and headphones and not talking to each other. The worst thing is when women are put off because they think it’s a club they’re not allowed to join.
After completing a degree in English Julie Allinson, Lead Developer at CoSector University of London, began her career as a librarian and now uses that background in her role designing and building the digital architecture for online collections and archives.
“As a librarian I was tackling increasingly more technical tasks and found I wanted to understand how to solve those problems myself. I thought about it for years before I decided to study for an MSc in Computer Science. The biggest challenge for me was probably my own lack of confidence and research has shown that’s something that puts a lot of women off.
“There’s a perception of the tech sector being full of young men wearing scruffy t-shirts and headphones and not talking to each other. But there are skills used in almost all jobs that are applicable to IT – logic, problem-solving, communication skills. The worst thing is when women are put off because they think it’s a club they’re not allowed to join.”
Research suggests that closing the gender gap could have huge financial benefits for the sector. A recent study by the Centre for Economics and Business Research found that increasing the number of women in IT could boost the UK economy by up to £2.6 billion.
There’s no right fit for computing, it takes all different styles of personality and people and that’s what makes it a rewarding career.
Dr Fiebrink said, “Having more people with more ideas and more life experiences is important if we want to be making tech that’s useful to people and has a positive impact.”
Julie added, “Every profession benefits from having a diverse set of people working in it.
You can’t fix a problem from the outside – the only way to improve the gender gap is by having more girls come into the sector feeling able to challenge traditionally male structures. So if you’re worrying that you don’t fit then stop and give it a go. There’s no right fit for computing, it takes all different styles of personality and people and that’s what makes it a rewarding career.”
Find out more about the BSc Computer Science degrees.