Article by Julie Gibb, Chief Technology Officer at Sim Local

women in computing, teacher, STEMThe tech and telecoms industry has long been a male dominated sphere. There are many factors that perpetuate the gender gap in STEM careers, from the lack of female role models to gender stereotypes that portray the fields as inflexible and exclusionary.

However, whilst we are witnessing more and more women drawn into the industry and breaking down the traditional barriers that once were so prevalent in these industries, currently only 19% of women in the UK work in tech.

For a sector which experiences a significant skills gap and is constantly screaming out for new and diverse talent, what are the current barriers preventing women entering tech and how do we overcome them? International Women’s Month in March provides the perfect opportunity to celebrate the women who have paved the way for others in STEM and highlight the steps needed to help women thrive in the industry going forward.

Inspiring younger generations

A report from STEM Women revealed that only a third (35%) of STEM students at higher education in the UK are women. Interest in science, technology, engineering and maths subjects start at early education level and must be nurtured throughout pupils’ studies.

Typically, these subjects have been associated with appealing more to male students in the past and therefore have deterred girls from following a path that will lead them into STEM fields. What sparked my interest in technology at a young age was typing programming code in my Apple computer at home. From an early age I was encouraged to play on a computer and programming was treated as a game in my household. Each time we upgraded our home computer, I wanted to set it up. This was despite that fact that I blew up the first computer and electrocuted myself at the same time – an interesting experience to say the least! I was about 12 years old when it happened.

When it was time for me to enrol in college, I had a curiosity for STEM, which ultimately lead me to choose a technology-oriented degree. STEM was something that I associated with my childhood and regarded as fun, rather than being intimidated by it, which many are.

Schools, colleges and universities need to do more to showcase that STEM careers don’t only exist in laboratories and research centres, but offer diverse and well-rounded career opportunities for women. Educators also need to find ways to encourage healthy competition between students who want to explore these subjects by creating inclusive environments, which ultimately drive mindset changes and acceptance within peer groups.

Role models are important

Female role-models also have a part to play. We need more female role models that young girls and women can relate to, so those considering technology careers are aware of the exciting opportunities that come with it. As I was growing up, my mother played a significant part in my life as a role model. She was, and still is, a trail blazer and had an amazing career in fashion design, as a stylist and costume designer. She was able to find the perfect balance between her personal life and her career, which is why I knew I never had to give one up for the other.

I was also lucky to have entered a STEM orientated college degree that had a higher-than-normal proportion of female students that year. My peers were high achievers and have had great careers of their own and become role models for their own daughters and sons. Sound-boarding off my female college friends proved to be an important support structure for me over the years. I also commend a large part of my confidence to expect a position at the top table to one of my female bosses early in my career. Having figures to interact with and to look up to goes a long way to helping young girls consider these roles for themselves and helps to shape the female leaders of tomorrow.

Barriers to overcome

On the other end of the spectrum, there are significant barriers for women to overcome when it comes to re-training. Often, when women decide to go on maternity leave and raise children, or interrupt their career for personal reasons, they are often stumped when re-entering the workforce – especially those who work in STEM, as the technology in the industry is always evolving.

Businesses need to respect those decisions and, through re-skilling or retraining initiatives, create a pathway for them to re-enter their careers smoothly and feel supported. The Government can also help by subsiding and helping towards training investment for companies and individuals.

Technology is a great area to experiment with initiatives because technology is always evolving, and upskilling is a constant requirement for anyone working in the industry. These programs won’t just further women’s careers, they will increase their confidence in getting back into the workplace after their leave.

The future workforce

Although the tech industry is slowly becoming more diverse, it is important to acknowledge the gender gap, in order to work on closing it further. Progress is well underway to ensure men and women have an equal seat at the table, but further steps can be taken to inspire change.

The Government needs to work with both educational institutions and businesses across the UK to inspire and prioritise encouraging more females to study STEM from young age and support women throughout their careers so they are able to successfully rise through the ranks and enjoy extremely rewarding careers in tech.

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Julie GibbAbout the author

Julie joined Sim Local as Chief Technology Officer in 2017, at a pivotal point in the company’s technology journey. She leads a team responsible for the technology services that underpin Sim Local’s retail business and retail channels across the globe. Julie has played a crucial role in the development of the next generation UNITE platform, which leverages Sim Local’s retail business insights and cloud services to offer a digital eSIM technology solution for various enterprises.

She has a breadth of industry experience having worked for over 20 years in the telecommunications sector for companies such as Telefonica and Nortel, and has been immersed in the telecoms evolution from voice only services, to voice, data, broadband and cloud services. Julie is a seasoned and passionate leader with a proven record of delivering business and technology advances including network, IT and digital transformation.

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