The real-life equivalent of James Bond’s tech expert ‘Q’ is a woman.
Stem Women
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This revelation came from MI6 Chief, Alex Younger, as he spoke of the importance of diversity in the tech sector at the Women in IT Awards in January. Yet, despite this fact, gender imbalance continues to hinder the development of the UK’s digital and tech industries.

Women make up 46 per cent of the UK labour force, but are vastly under-represented in STEM industries, accounting for just 13 per cent of all workers in STEM occupations and only one in five (19 per cent) at a senior a level in the technology field. That is why on International Day of Women and Girls in STEM we are calling on businesses to do more to support women already in STEM, and to encourage more women into these types of roles, to help tackle the lack of ‘digital diversity’ in the UK workforce.

Diversity pays dividends

The UK is in the grips of a digital skills crisis which is estimated to be costing the UK economy £63bn in lost GDP every year. Our own Digital Development Index revealed that women feel less digitally confident than their male counterparts in the UK; fostering a digital divide when it comes to gender participation and confidence in this sector. What’s more, this divide is affecting our position on the international stage, with our study showing the UK is lagging when it comes to our ability to compete in the global digital economy, trailing in 4th place behind Estonia, South Korea and Sweden.

UK PLC needs to double the number of STEM apprentices and graduates if we’re to meet projected demand by 2020. 1 But, getting women into STEM can’t be limited to just solving the digital skills gap. Tech and innovation is centred on solving today’s societal problems and as these problems become more complex there needs to be a diverse set of people and perspectives to rise to the challenge. Encouraging women to pursue a career in the tech and digital sectors will only help bolster our ability to solve these issues now and in the future. There are economic benefits too; research shows that increasing the number of women working in information technology (IT) could generate an extra £2.6 billion each year – a tangible example of what’s to gain from supporting women in tech.

Confidence is key

It seems that girls have a strong track record of participation and achievement in STEM subjects in school, but their interest in the sector drops off as they exit compulsory education. An OECD study found that despite girls outperforming boys in STEM qualifications, they lacked confidence in key subjects such as science and maths.

It seems the problem is not getting girls and women engaged in STEM and technology, but preventing them from becoming disengaged.

If we want more women to see the technology sector as a viable career option we need to foster their confidence in this area and dispel the overarching stereotype that technology is a man’s industry. Crucial to this is creating a clear pathway for women and girls from studying ICT at school straight through to the job of Chief Information Officer for a FTSE 100. Young women and girls need successful female role models to aspire to – profiling successful women in tech is key to widening their perception of their career options. It is about leading from the top and, as a business leader, I took on my own digital skills challenge and learnt to code. We saw a phenomenally positive response from colleagues who have risen to the challenge of developing their own digital skills and confidence. We now have over 18,000 colleagues who are Digital Eagles, dedicated to encouraging every one of all abilities and ages to engage with new technologies.

On International Day of Women and Girls in STEM we need to strengthen our commitment to a diverse digital industry and that starts with promoting the empowerment, participation and contribution of women and girls in science, technology and innovation today and in the future.

About the author

Ashok Vaswani is the Chief Executive Officer for Barclays UK, covering Personal Banking, Wealth, Entrepreneurs and Business Banking and Barclaycard UK. He is passionate about helping people embrace the new opportunities of the digital revolution with confidence and champions the bank’s initiatives to achieve this.