Girls in tech, STEM

International Girls in IT Day: Why the future of tech depends upon girls

Girls in tech, STEM

From using online classrooms to applying for jobs and entering work with the tech skills employers expect: digital skills have become essential to thrive.

Yet, the stark reality of the gender digital skills gap means women and girls continue to be excluded.  It’s why initiatives like the United National Girls in ICT Day celebrated every 28th April are so important to shine a spotlight on opportunities for girls to thrive in their digital lives.

The context of exponential technology growth and digital transformation should allow for greater opportunities across society. But the benefits are more likely to be reaped by a small portion of the population, as women continue to be underrepresented in tech. A recent report on the Global Gender Gap by the World Economic Forum found women make up just 18% of Europe’s IT specialists.

Research from the Nominet Digital Youth Index, our annual report offering insights into young people’s digital experiences, shows the appeal of technology-related jobs is higher among young men – 78% vs 64% for young women and girls. Young people’s aspirations in this space are shaped by norms, stereotypes and a lack of role models. As a woman who has been in tech for over 10 years, I find I have to work harder to prove my expertise and encounter stereotypes, particularly around practical digital skills and capabilities.

Why does this matter? Firstly, this is an issue of equality and fairness in the opportunities to fulfil your potential – no matter your gender, background or personal characteristics. But it’s even more than that. Attracting more women in tech contributes perspectives and knowledge, bringing inherent value which is crucial to a diverse and thriving society and digital economy.

18%

of women pursuing degrees in tech-related subjects

Breaking the bias from an early age

With only 18% of women pursuing degrees in tech-related subjects according to Girls Who Code, schools, civil society groups, families and the media have a role to play in inspiring girls to take up science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects. We know that interventions which introduce digital early and actively counter stereotypes play a huge part in enabling girls to feel confident pursuing a career in tech later in life. This is underpinned by more general gender norms illustrating the importance of building confidence in girls, as studies have shown that girls start to lose their self-esteem from as young as 12 years old and to believe that ‘brilliance’ is a male trait from as young as six.

Nominet’s recent research with Catch 22 uncovers some of the systemic barriers to attaining digital skills. We found a need to overlay interpretations of barriers to digital skills uptake with an understanding of the factors of social disadvantage in order to drive change.

Digital Skills in Schools

School is a logical place to start when it comes to unpacking digital skills. Almost one in two (47%) UK teachers lack the adequate technology to effectively teach their pupils according to Tech4Teachers. This presents a challenge to educators to rethink what is being taught to children to prepare them for the future.

Outside projects provide valuable support for teachers with hands-on technical learning. For example, with support from Nominet, the Micro:bit Educational Foundation is running an initiative to teach tens of thousands of primary school children in the UK to code using pocket-sized computers, demonstrating how early stage tech skills can be introduced.

Research has found that teaching physical computing with the Micro:bit breaks down barriers for girls, increases student motivation and fosters broader skills such as creativity, teamwork and resilience. If children are to gain the skills required for a future digital career, there needs to be a fundamental curriculum shift in the way tech is taught.

3%

of women in the UK say a career in technology is their first choice

Making women in tech visible for the next generation

Research from PwC shows just 3% of women in the UK saying a career in technology is their first choice which is reflected in the tech workforce. When girls relate to “someone who looks like me” it is powerful for their self-belief and demonstrating what is possible. This is something I have seen first-hand in my role as a youth leader in my group of twenty five 11-14 year old young women.

For Safer Internet Day, we spoke about perceptions of careers in science and tech.  While girls expressed perceptions about “what kind of person pursues a career in the digital space,” we went on to discuss how many aspirational female role models are inspiring the next generation. It struck me how many of the barriers are around confidence over capability.

Technology as a catalyst 

Flipping the conversation, technology has the potential to be an enabler and to catalyse change. The Nominet Digital Youth Index found that over half of young people are teaching themselves digital skills. While we could interpret this as formal education not landing, it is also evidence of enthusiasm and willingness to troubleshoot and self-teach.

More diversity in those who take up tech jobs can help translate the aspirations of unique spectrums of society into the digital world. This will create representative perspectives in design resulting in more innovative, appropriate solutions, in turn leading to more inclusion. It’s the mantra: nothing about us, without us.

Diversity in tech requires a collective response and collaboration from industry, education, civil society and government to unlock the opportunities for digital skills today to realise equitable and thriving digital economies of the future.

Amy O'DonnellAbout the author

Amy O’Donnell is Senior Programme Manager, Social Impact, at Nominet where a large part of her role is to support partners in navigating the way digital technology is impacting young people in the UK. She leads on strategic pillars exploring digital transformation in mental health and widening participation in digital skills and careers.

With over ten years’ experience supporting social impact initiatives, and helping to design inclusive approaches in the context of new digital realities, she has played an active role in the strategic direction of the Nominet Digital Youth Index, offering interactive, annual benchmarking data and insights about young peoples’ experiences both on and offline.Amy is passionate about privacy by design, ethical good practice, diversity and intersectionality.

With previous experience as Digital in Programme Lead at Oxfam and Project Director for FrontlineSMS:Radio, Amy joined Nominet in 2021 and has brought with her vast international experience as a champion for responsible data and countering inequality in a digital world.She is also dedicated GirlGuide Leader and co-District Commissioner in Headington, Oxford, which most recently has involved running activities connected to Safer Internet Day 2022.