Jennifer MacKenzie: Cracking the code of IT’s gender gap

Secondary school girls from Edinburgh learned how to code and instruct robots. Its aim was to address the chronic shortage of women currently employed in or studying Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths

Secondary school girls from Edinburgh learned how to code and instruct robots. Its aim was to address the chronic shortage of women currently employed in or studying Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths

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Recently I was at a meeting around closing the gender gap in tech. The main discussion was on how to encourage women to see the tech sector as a viable career choice.

Initially the discussion centred on what more employers could be doing to recruit greater numbers of women into tech positions; reviewing the language used in job ads (something tech unicorn Fan Duel has done), send recruiters on ‘unconscious bias’ training and promote flexible working opportunities.

However, it soon became clear that one of the reasons I don’t get many, or any, female applicants for the IT and digital roles I advertise, is that young women are not choosing to study technology based subjects in the first place. A further education college at the meeting had only one female student in each year of their course. One. Things got worse. We found out that in secondary schools, in the Highland Region, there are only eight Computing Science teachers across all 28 secondary schools. This is disastrous.

To discover in the month the Scottish Government’s Digital Strategy was launched that Highland Region have only eight teachers of computing across 28 schools is unbelievable. It promises to make the country a “vibrant and outward-looking digital nation” with plans to increase the number of digital jobs in Scotland to 150,000 by 2021, improve digital skills and increase superfast broadband access across the country. How is this in any way achievable when we are not even teaching basic computing skills in the majority of schools in a region? And it is not just Highland Region, the number of computer science teachers in Scotland fell from 866 in 2007 to 663 in 2014 – a drop of 14 per cent.

There is a fundamental and growing problem here. If Scotland truly wants to be a digital nation, we need to be teaching computing to our children in school. All of them. Computing (Science) should be taught alongside Maths and English as a basic requirement so that children have a sound understanding and knowledge , other than how to use an app on a mobile phone, as it is going to be necessary to have this to work anywhere in the future. I look around my office and 70 per cent of the jobs are digital and the other 30 per cent are using computers and different online systems day in day out.

It’s great that the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon announced a new Digital Growth Fund to address the current undersupply of digital skills. As a country we will have to keep providing these extra funds year on year if we do not deal with the underlying teacher training and recruitment crisis. This currently means we do not have enough teachers to train the upcoming generations in the skills we need.

We must look at new and innovative ways to recruit teachers, bringing them in from the tech sector itself if possible, with fast-tracked teaching qualifications allowing to attack this growing problem now and not in some distant future if we really want to be a ‘vibrant and outward-looking nation’.

Jennifer MacKenzie is MD of TEFL Org UK, IoD Scotland Director of the Year, Medium-sized Business, Inverness

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