Women make up just 18 per cent of the digital technology workforce in Scotland, and “significant work” is required to address the gender imbalance, a report has found.
Research by Napier University found that while many girls at school view the growing tech sector with interest, and appreciate its significance, not enough are perusing employment opportunities with associated businesses north of the border.
The number of women in the Scottish tech workforce has declined in recent years despite a growing awareness more needs to be done to encourage pupils from all backgrounds to learn the kind of skills valued by digital innovators.
The report, commissioned by the Digital Technologies Skills Group, highlights “a prime opportunity” to tackle the skills gap and attract more women into digital technology roles through targeted intervention and on-going support from school to employment.
In response, an expert group chaired by Evelyn Walker of Hewlett Packard Enterprise has been set-up to develop an action plan to encourage more females into the sector.
Ideas in development include the use of role models in schools, extending the reach of technology into other subjects, promoting the benefits of gender parity and flexible workplaces, and supporting employers to attract and promote female participation.
Walker said: “Addressing the gender imbalance will not be a short term issue and significant work will be required by a range of stakeholders including education, industry and public agencies.
“The imbalance starts while girls are in school, so it is important that solutions are developed to tackle this issue from early years onwards. However, attracting more females to enter digital technology careers is only part of the solution.
“Women should be encouraged to remain in the sector and to progress into interesting, rewarding and senior roles.”
A review of the research found females make up 20 per cent of pupils studying National 5 computing science in school and 16 per cent of those pursuing computing degrees at university.
The majority of female students taking computing courses at university aspire to work in the sector after graduation. The industry also attracts women from other backgrounds – around half of women in digital roles come from non-tech backgrounds such as creative arts, business studies and natural studies.
Walker continued: “The research indicates that there are a lot of females who are open to the idea of working in tech.
“To turn that willingness into a real increase in the number of women in our sector we need to reach, support inspire them to take the next steps.”
Louise Hutcheson, a software test analyst at NCC Group in Edinburgh, said work needed to be done to overcome gender stereotypes in the industry.
“Tech companies have their own work to do in ensuring a more equal workforce, but to do that, more girls need to be encouraged to enter the industry from an earlier age,” she said.
“Little girls shouldn’t be pigeon-holed into dreaming of a ballet career while little boys play with cars.
“We should encourage schoolgirls’ love for maths, physics, computing and make sure they don’t feel isolated in a classroom composed mostly of boys. When women do enter the industry, Let’s create an environment that doesn’t condescend women for ‘going against the grain’.”