Digital jobs beckon if we can bridge the gender divide in our classroom, writes Evelyn Walker
How do you solve a problem like the gender imbalance in digital technology? The answer is complex but it starts with reaching girls early, to build their confidence and to show them how much they could achieve in roles as diverse as software engineering, data analysis and web development.
We know from research that girls at school look positively at digital technology subjects and careers, and consider such subjects to be interesting, important and enjoyable. Research has also found a stronger orientation towards technology jobs among girls whose friends are interested in computers. This shows that we need to reach out, support and inspire them to take these next steps.
Schools represent a prime opportunity to inspire young girls about technology careers. That needn’t necessarily be limited to computing science classes. Technology can be embedded in a range of areas such as sport, science and the arts – just as it is in the real world, outside the classroom. By doing this we can challenge misunderstandings and misconceptions about the nature of jobs in this sector and encourage girls to choose a career path in digital technology.
More than 84,000 people are employed in roles related to digital technology across Scotland and demand for skilled professionals is unprecedented. Career opportunities available for those with the right skill set are significant, with up to 11,000 new job opportunities available in Scotland annually.
A concerted effort is required by industry, education and the public sector working together to promote positive role models and eliminate the perceived barriers that can prevent talented individuals from pursuing digital technology careers.
We need to communicate the huge variety of digital technology roles available across the economy. There are so many exciting and creative jobs open to people with digital skills, and plenty of ways to use technology to make a difference in the world. This is a particularly important message as pupils head towards making their crucial subject choices for National 4 and 5 this month and next.
I regularly visit primary and secondary schools to educate parents, careers advisers and pupils about the roles available if they embark on a computing science qualification. In addition to offering advice and encouragement, industry involvement in the delivery of computing science is also an important means to ensure that young people are inspired by an up-to-date, industry-relevant and engaging curriculum.
Earlier this year I was appointed as chair of Scotland’s Gender Work Stream for Digital Technologies Skills. Created in response to the findings of the Skills Investment Plan for the ICT and Digital Technologies sector, it is part of a wider strategy to increase and broaden the talent pipeline.
The Gender Work Stream is working with partners across Scotland to develop and implement a joint action plan to take advantage of the opportunities to attract females into the sector. In November, we hosted our first event, bringing together representatives from across industry, education, and the public and third sectors. There was a real buzz and energy in the room as people shared their own experiences and spoke about their own projects and initiatives.
We have a strong, shared agenda and by working together we can amplify the time and effort contributed by so many individual organisations and groups. That’s what progress looks like.
Evelyn Walker is UK & Ireland project management lead for Hewlett Packard Enterprise and chair of the Gender Work Stream for Digital Technologies Skills