Girls in tech, STEM

Let’s inspire a new generation of Sara Seagers

Girls in tech, STEM

On March 8, we’ll celebrate International Women’s Day, and I’m sure it means different things to different people. To many women, it will be a platform to redress the gender imbalance in so many areas of our lives.

For me, it’s an opportunity, when the topic of conversation is inclusion and diversity, to talk about a subject close to my heart: the need to encourage more young women into STEM subjects. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and maths, of course. And it will not surprise WeAreTheCity and WeAreTechWomen readers to hear that women are woefully under-represented in STEM courses and careers.

You may have seen this already but according to UCAS (Universities and Colleges Admissions Service) data, the female proportion of graduates in core STEM subjects has flatlined at around 26%.

In tech, the figures look even more unrepresentative, according to government data. Of the 300,000 more people working in tech jobs now than in 2009, just 55,000 are female. This means the percentage of tech professionals who are female has remained stuck at roughly one in six.

I’m a female CEO of my own tech company and one of those one in six, and I’m passionate about providing tech solutions to employers, training providers and learners. But I’m also a STEM ambassador who believes that we must do much, much more to attract young women into STEM subjects.

A question might be why? Why is it so important to have a gender balance in technology, for example? Are men stronger in some subjects while women are better in others? The old cliche of science subjects being better suited to males, and creative subjects or humanities more suited to females may be easily dismissed, but it’s still the perception of many young people. In a study of KS4 pupils, only 33% of female pupils considered themselves to be best at a STEM subject compared to 69% of their male classmates.

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For me, the need for more young women to enter into STEM careers is not just a question of fairness, or even of challenging an age-old cliche. Perhaps most importantly of all, it’s a question of how we can get the best possible outcomes from science, technology, engineering and mathematics. If the single aim that draws the practitioners of these disciplines together is to make our lives better in some way, then they stand a better chance of doing so with inclusive, equal, diverse professions.

Because I know it best of all, I will use the example of technology. I develop tech to help employers manage apprenticeships. About half of apprentices in England are female, but 87% of developers are male. How can we build software solutions that work for females if they are being developed by men and will have gender bias built in?

According to a global software developer survey in 2021, the vast majority of developers are male, accounting for 91.7 percent of all respondents. Female developers amounted to only five percent of all respondents, demonstrating the male-dominating reality of software development jobs.

But the truth is that women’s voices in tech will always add new and unique perspectives to products and services. One study of more than 100 teams at 21 companies found that teams with equal numbers of men and women were more likely to experiment, be creative and successfully complete tasks.

So, how do we get more young women pursuing fulfilling careers in STEM subjects? I think it’s about inspiring them and providing more female role models. This is why communities such as WeAreTechWomen are so important. The media can also play its part by providing inspirational content fronted by talented women.

And I agree with others that there needs to be more female role models in STEM subjects in our national curriculum. Research by one teaching charity in 2020 found no mention of any women in its Department for Education science content at GCSE level, but 14 mentions of male scientists. So, no Marie Curie and her contributions to science. No Sara Seager, who has found 715 planets in her time working with the Keplar Telescope. No Jane Goodall, the most famous primate scientist in history.

The list is endless. But how can we expect there to be a gender balance in these subjects when young women see only successful men as examples?

Women make great scientists, technologists, engineers and mathematicians. It’s time we started to tell their inspirational stories.

Kerry LinleyAbout the author

Kerry Linley is CEO and founder of Rubitek, a tech firm that specialises in developing software to help employers manage apprenticeships.  Kerry is also a STEM ambassador and a passionate advocate for encouraging more young women into science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Kerry Linley featured

Inspirational Woman: Kerry Linley | Founder & CEO, Rubitek

Kerry Linley featuredI’m the Founder and CEO of a company called Rubitek that produces learning management software aiding apprentices, their employers and their training providers in managing the apprenticeship journey for better outcomes.

I’m also a busy wife, mum and step-mum to 5 children, with all that it entails, as well as being an enterprise advisor and a STEM ambassador.

My parents were both hard-working but unskilled, and I left work at the age of 16 so that I could contribute to the household. From 2007, I delivered one of the UK’s most successful shared apprenticeship schemes, which featured as a best practice case study in the Government’s Commission on Apprenticeships. At the age of 45, I left a well-paid job in order to develop a tech solution that would improve apprenticeship completion rates.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I think my career chose me, rather than the other way around. I simply identified a problem and felt I had the means to solve it. There are many causes of non-completion in apprenticeships and, after running one of the UK’s most successful shared apprenticeship schemes, I’d learned to spot the early warning signs. Our average completion rate was 85% against an industry average of 57%, so I knew we were doing something right and it was clear to me that, with the help of proper technology, more employers and providers could improve apprenticeship outcomes.

I set about mapping the apprenticeship journey and then re-designed it to improve apprentice retention, completion and progression outcomes. That’s how and why Rubitek (which is named after our pet dog Ruby who spent many hours sitting with me whilst I was designing the platform) was born.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

The main reason that I started Rubitek was this: 40% of apprentices do not complete their apprenticeship. This affects more women than men, and more people from BAME communities.

For most of my life I’ve worked in male-dominated industries. When I started building apprenticeship management software just under 3 years ago, all of the developers I worked with were men. I quickly realised that I couldn’t build a solution to the problem I had identified if those developing it did not reflect those who would benefit. Technology needs a gender and diversity balance. To change things, we need to give people more role models who look like them, with values that they can aspire to.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

Over the last 24 months, I have developed an apprenticeship management platform that is improving apprenticeship completion rates. I’ve pitched to investor and secured funding for my business, resolved a legal challenge, build a loyal customer base and set up a diverse team, all whilst negotiating my business through a global pandemic.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

I’ve had the great pleasure of working with some amazing female role models and over the years have learned to surround myself with incredibly positive people, men and women. I’ve also had the privilege of taking part in a couple of accelerator programmes, including one specifically for women in tech (WiST). Support networks like this are invaluable and I’d like to see more of them. I would also encourage any female just starting out, especially in tech, to get themselves a mentor.

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?

In addition to the above, as you can probably imagine, working in apprenticeships puts mentoring at the very forefront of my day-to-day. Effective mentoring has a massive impact on apprentice completion rates, and this is something my platform encourages. As well as being an advocate for apprenticeships, I employ apprentices myself and this means that my job involves great deals of mentoring; this is very important to me and I’m very proud of the diverse and brilliant team that has grown around me as a result.

If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Equality, what would it be?

As I touched upon earlier, young women especially would benefit from more role models that look like them and better represent their values and ambitions. I feel one reason for the lack of female role models is that women are not often encouraged to advertise their successes in the same way that men are. Unfortunately, culture and gender modesty norms, as well as imposter syndrome, affect many women who struggle talking about their own accomplishments. Over the years and through my various roles, I have learnt to speak openly about my accomplishments, as well as my family life, in an effort to encourage those around me to see that it’s OK to do the same.

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?

Be passionate and just go for it. Why wait? I was 46 years old when Rubitek built its first apprentice management platform, so in many ways I would say I’m still at the start of my tech career. Who knows whether I would have started sooner had there been more female role models?

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?  

Simply to continue building on our successes to date. My next challenge is to embark on a new project, one that will build on our existing software, ensuring even more apprentices achieve qualification, and will truly take Rubitek to the next level.