Whilst the contribution of women working in computing has been vast, some of the most pioneering women in this space are often not given the recognition they deserve, writes Terri Coombs, Education Business Manager at Jigsaw24.

 Ada Lovelace was a shining example of a pioneering woman who made a significant contribution to the world of computing and technology as early as the 19th century, and Mary Coombs and Dina St Johnston followed in the 20th century. Whilst many pioneering women have advanced our understanding of technology since, there is still a long way to go given a clear absence of women in computing today.

As a teacher, I spent many years teaching computing, and working with young girls who showed a natural talent and passion for the subject in primary school but very few continued this subject into KS3. Now, as an Education Business Manager at Jigsaw24, I see the impact of this first hand. The gender imbalance within the technology sector is clearly evident.

I’m passionate about using purposeful technology in the classroom to support future job skills for all learners. I believe we can take tangible steps to address gender imbalance in technology by ensuring we highlight important role-models and modern job opportunities to our female students. This will ensure that we don’t just focus on women in STEM on STEM Day or International Women’s Day only, but instead support girls’ educational paths by widening potential of opportunity for future careers.

In the classroom, technology creates a fluid learning environment that supports expression and communication.  Education has a key part to play in positively, encouraging girls to consider a career in technology, offering them the encouragement and tools to assure them that this is a space to consider. The aim is to bridge the stereotypes of STEM subjects and move us towards the ultimate goal of closing the gender gap in technology.

The theme for International Women’s Day 2023, which will take place on 8th March, is ‘Embrace Equity’, which feels particularly relevant given the current discussion around addressing the gender imbalance in technology.

Gender diversity in technology roles

The statistics paint a significantly unbalanced picture about the state of gender diversity in the technology sector. A report from the Office for National Statistics (ONS)  finds that 31% of technology roles in the UK are held by women. In senior roles, this narrows further with women making up just 10% of technology leadership roles. And when we look at women considering working in tech, research from PwC shows just 3% of females at school and university level in the UK say that a career in technology is their first choice, when compared to 15% of males. A key part of this, is that education is an important part of rewriting this narrative for future generations. Discounting the skills gap, which is particularly pronounced in technology already, it is imperative for women, and for the sector at large, to address this challenge.

Taking action in IT diversity for women

It’s clear that action needs to be taken to address this imbalance. Going into schools and offering exposure to a wide variety of potential jobs and careers within the industry is an important part of the solution. I believe this is one of the best ways to reach girls at a young age by offering early exposure to technology roles, which provides these students with the opportunity to understand the careers available.

Schools and colleges should look to invite female speakers, and women in technology to speak to all students and offer guidance on STEM roles. The importance of having a female role model in this space cannot be overstated. Schools and colleges can also look to partner with technology companies and providers, who may be interested in inviting pupils for work experience in the sector, or to offer further guidance on the next step of their careers. Technology companies have a depth of expertise that can be shared in an engaging format with younger students, providing an ideal space to understand more on the topic.

Schools and colleges can also identify recommended bursaries their students can apply for, which would truly elevate a young girl’s educational journey in technology. This is something we sought to deliver at Jigsaw24, where in 2021, we offered a scholarship to a female student from a lower-income household for studying a computer science-focused degree at Nottingham Trent University. Bursaries such as these can be a positive step in the right direction for the industry, and an opportunity for a female student to start their career in tech.

At Jigsaw24, we believe in promoting equal opportunities within our business and aim to lead by example in the tech sector. As part of our commitment to rewrite the narrative and raise the profile of future job opportunities for females in IT, we have launched a project with schools entitled We Embrace Equality. This project will see schools focus first on their locality and how their schools tackle inequality, which is followed by an invitation to female students to join us at Jigsaw24 HQ for a day to meet with female leaders in our company, and learn about the differing roles before collaboratively working on a video case study about the topic. We believe projects like this are vital and are committed to leading the call for action.

Looking ahead to greater gender diversity in IT

Whilst the gender divide in technology remains pronounced, it’s clear that, if schools, colleges and universities begin to take steps to tackle the gender imbalance by partnering with tech companies, and highlighting the achievements of female role models within technology, we can enable the new generation to embrace equality within the technology sector. It is my hope that the female students I meet now will one day be applying to work at Jigsaw24!