woman coding on laptop
Growing up in Gibraltar, computer science was simply not on my radar as a career option.

At school I loved learning. I was obsessed with LEGO and figuring out different ways to put the blocks together to create infinite models. In a way, that was my first experience with coding.

I remember our primary school getting a computer. I’d work hard to finish early so I could earn 15 minutes to tinker with the machine and play games. That ignited my interest, and because of that I begged my parents to buy me my first computer. I’ll never forget the day, in 1982, when we brought it home – a ZX Spectrum 48K with its rubber keyboard and rainbow motif. I still have it, and it does still work, but it spends most of its time sat on a shelf in my study!

Despite there being practically no women in computer science in Gibraltar in the 80s, I never felt that my gender was a barrier. My mum was very inspiring – she worked as a police officer when they used to have to wear heels, a handbag and a skirt. She was brilliant at her job and pushed me to pursue whatever career path I wanted. I also feel lucky to have attended an all-girls school, so I never saw computer science as a subject “for boys”.

At 18, I went to UCLan to study for my BSc in Computing. I ended up staying to get a Post Graduate Certificate in Management, a Post Graduate Diploma in Education, and an MEd in Professional Practice. Now, I’m studying part-time for my Ph.D. in Computing Education.

I know I was lucky with my experience and other young girls might not receive the same support as I did. Barriers remain that limit the opportunities for girls to pursue careers in computer science and STEM more broadly.

Within schools, there remains an imbalance between the number of girls and boys taking up STEM subjects once they become optional. 2021 A-Level results revealed a 5.79% increase in female students taking STEM subjects, including Computing, Further Maths, Physics, Biology and Chemistry. While this may look positive on the surface, male students in Maths, Further Maths and Physics, still vastly outweigh female students.

In the workplace, data from the Office for National Statistics Labour Force reveals that women remain a minority in the STEM sector workforce. While the percentage of female STEM employees increased from 21% to 24% in 2019, some industries, such as engineering, only had 10% women engineers in 2019. There’s a lack of real champions for female inclusion. Some see it as simply a tick-box exercise to make up figures and are therefore getting away with doing the bare minimum.

The benefits of a more diverse workforce are clear. Teams with people from different backgrounds are proven to come up with better ideas. My field, computer science, is all about problem solving, so teams who lack any diversity are more likely to become an echo chamber, unable to bring new solutions to the fore.

When I think about what Gen Z is going to bring to the workforce, I do get excited. This is a generation who are making sure that they are treated fairly, leaving them less exposed to being overworked and exploited as my generation was as we tried to get a foot in the door. They’ll be vocal about the inequalities they are facing, but they need champions in leadership positions to listen. It’s time for schools, universities, and businesses to take a stand against gender inequality in STEM, and help to unlock the potential of girls up and down the country.

About the author

Nicky Danino, principal lecturer in Computer Science at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan). Nicky is a computer scientist with over 20 years of Higher Education experience. Her passion lies in trying to engage more young people (especially women) with computer science. She would like to see an increase in the number of girls studying computing, and works towards trying to address the gender stereotypes around professions in the discipline. Most recently, Nicky has contributed to a science textbook ‘The Science of Superheroes’ which aims to engage young adults with STEM.