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Balancing act: engineering a future for women in STEM

Sarah Glastonbury, part of the Senior Leadership Team at Creative ITC, explains that although progress is being made, there’s a lot more the IT sector can do to improve gender balance.

For years women have been under-represented in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) university courses and occupations. Since 2015, the number of female graduates globally in core STEM subjects fluctuated between 24% and 26% in 2019 – where it has now stalled. The fact that the IT industry continues to be male dominated with women making up just 19% of the current tech workforce is therefore not surprising.

So, what can the tech sector to do redress this imbalance?

Change will do you good

The good news is, there are positive signs of change. Over the past decade, we’ve definitely seen inroads across the industry to improve diversity and equality, creating more opportunity and support for females to consider STEM careers. Campaigning and changing attitudes are also encouraging women to take up different roles and move into more senior positions within the sector.

A diverse team combining a mix of genders, ethnicities, experiences and backgrounds will incorporate different perspectives and viewpoints to enable better problem solving. Companies which become known for encouraging a more diverse workforce also benefit from attracting a wide talent pool.

Altering perceptions

At Creative we’re really proud that a third of our team is female. One was recently crowned employee of the year and another is one of the top virtualisation gurus on the planet. Yet, within the IT industry this seems to be the exception rather than the norm. Women have been put off by perceptions of the IT sector’s male-dominated working environment. It’s slowly changing, but we need to lose the perception that you need to be a male geek to work in IT. It’s not all about code, ones and zeros, soldering motherboards, and so on.

If you’re naturally analytical and method-minded, you’re already well on the way. Women have become known as natural multi-taskers. Many of us are working mums – we’re used to keeping lots of plates spinning, which is a great skill to have in such a fast-paced, ever-changing industry.

Many women have been put off pursuing tech careers by lack of flexible working. However, one of the positive outcomes of the pandemic is stigma around working from home has disappeared. It’s become completely acceptable to acknowledge that we’re all juggling work with personal lives. Conversations on maintaining work-life balance and wellbeing are now commonplace – and we’re all more relaxed as a result, men and women alike.

Two of the things I’ve most enjoyed about working in this sector are variety and the energetic pace. There’s always something new on the horizon. It’s fascinating to see how businesses go about adopting digital tech for competitive edge. The drive to be faster, smarter and leaner adds tremendous buzz and energy. The industry needs to get better at communicating this to attract the best talent.

Bringing the dream to life

More needs to be done to grow awareness at grass-roots level. Sadly, only 35% of girls study STEM subjects beyond GCSE, compared to 80% of boys. We need to change that and convince young women that starting a career in IT is a smart move.

We need to bring that dream alive – for example, by celebrating female tech leaders more. It’s important to have a variety of role models that young women can identify with. When you bring women into senior positions, you show that others have the opportunity to succeed too. Better online and media representation of females working in tech would help as well.

The diversity of roles within the sector is not widely understood. You don’t necessarily need to be good at maths or understand binary to be a software developer, for example. Neither would women intuitively associate an IT job advert with an opportunity that could lead to a long, lucrative career, which might take them around the world. To encourage diversity, recruiters need to get better at crafting job opportunities. Women are likely to be attracted to roles offering the ability to work creatively, travel and be well-rewarded, with benefits such as working flexibly around childcare and better maternity packages.

Remember there’s always a technical position out there that plays to your strengths. It’s just finding the right one that will enable you to thrive. And there’s never been a better time. The global IT field is crying out for young female talent.

Sarah GlastonburyAbout the author

An enthusiastic, versatile B2B marketeer with over 10 years of experience in the IT sector, Sarah leads marketing strategy, planning and execution for Creative Group. CIM-qualified and results-oriented, she has proven success in delivering exceptional business outcomes on the national and international stage.