I continue to be shocked by the gender imbalance in tech. We know technology is the fastest growing sector globally; many future careers will be in the emerging 4.0 industries and everyone will use technology to facilitate their working day.
The World Economic Forum reported in 2020 that women account for only 22 per cent of the tech workforce. According to the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), the percentage of female students enrolled in a computing degree course at university in 2020/21 was only 21 per cent. Even more worrying, the British Science Association reports that the number of girls studying computing is declining.
A decade ago, girls made up 42 per cent of the ICT GCSE entrants, by 2017 that figure had dropped slightly to 39 per cent. By 2022, the percentage was in freefall at only 21 per cent taking computer science GCSE.
“Traditionally, tech products have been designed by men, for men.”
Dig deeper and you realise that social, educational and cultural issues play a huge part in facilitating this imbalance. Traditionally, tech products have been designed by men, for men; the research and data collection has been carried out on men.
The size of a mobile phone and a computer keyboard are designed on a male handspan; voice assisted technology is 70 per cent more likely to respond to male commands (Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado-Perez).
Few women hold senior leadership roles in the tech sector and there is evidence of a significant gender pay gap. A survey by PWC stated that out of 2,000 students 78 per cent could not name a female role model in tech.
Unless we address these issues young women run the risk of being shut out of a huge global sector before they reach the age of 20.
As school leaders, how do we address this imbalance? Tackling the skills shortage and addressing societal issues requires a multifaceted approach. As the head of a girls’ school that was a very early adopter of tech in education, I thought I would share some reflections from our journey.
“78 per cent of students could not name a female role model in tech.”
Primarily, you need a long-term tech strategy, with a clearly defined framework to embed it; tech is not an add-on.
A strategy needs to include: a detailed understanding of your belief system around the role of tech in education; decisions on the platform you will adopt to build consistency across the school; plans for training your community; and budgets.
At BGS we had these conversations a decade ago. Our ethos focuses on our students being the innovators and technology being the facilitator. We adopted one-to-one iPads from entry at Year 3 and invested heavily in ongoing training for staff, as we expected them to integrate digital learning into all aspects of teaching.
We continually talk to parents. We became an Apple Distinguished School in 2014 and created a digital director role on SLT so there is always an expert in the room championing tech.
“You need a long-term tech strategy…tech is not an add-on.”
At a curriculum level, the focus must be on providing opportunities to build skills. Our students need to be digitally fluent, agile, understand emerging media and be transdisciplinary thinkers.
Does your current approach help develop these skills? Do students have access to coding, robotics, virtual and augmented reality from an early age?
We offer the IB PYP programme from Year 3, embedding skills early, introducing access to multiple digital resources from day one. All students study computer science in Year 7-8, it is offered as GCSE and as an option in the IB Diploma Programme.
“Girls need role models; they need to see versions of their future selves.”
Finally, address gender stereotyping. Encourage girls to build confidence through all things tech – running the tech societies, entering tech competitions and recommending new apps.
Girls need role models; they need to see versions of their future selves reflected from a very early age. Introduce mentorships, workshops, trips and talks from female scientists, female engineers and female tech specialists (make use of parents and alumnae).
We will only change the status quo through committed action. Technological development will gallop ahead and girls cannot be left behind. We must ensure all the students have equal access to bright futures.