Whose skills, whose future? – On the digital skills pipeline
Technology is transforming every aspect of our lives – as one of our members said to me last year, he could attend a different event or read a new report on digitalisation and the future of work every day of the week. What is not so readily available is robust evidence on the implications for women and what can be done to address the real risk of a growing gender divide. It’s why the title of our 2019 conference is “Our Skills, Our Future”.
Given that 45% of IT and business executives say the pace of change in their organisations has ‘significantly accelerated’ as a result of new technologies, it’s vital we revisit and refresh strategies to attract and keep girls and women of all ages interested and playing our full part in shaping the tech which is shaping all of our lives.
The Made Smarter Review estimated that an additional 175,000 tech jobs could be created in industry by the mid-2020s, and those jobs will need people with a good mix of tech and interpersonal skills. But is there currently a strong enough pipeline of girls coming through the education system to meet that demand?
The good news is that, since the introduction of the GCSE in Computing, there has been an increase in the percentage of those sitting it who are girls, albeit only up to one in five in 2018.
There has been a similar trend at A Level, although only one in eight of those gaining Computing A Level in 2018 were girls. On this trajectory, we won’t reach gender parity in A Level Computing for over 80 years. Our new My Skills My Life platform introduces girls to women just like them who are doing amazing things with technology. (To find out more about how you can use this resource as part of your outreach programmes, please do book a place at our My Skills My Life WISE conference workshop)
Meanwhile, data released earlier this year by the Higher Education Statistics Authority show that at undergraduate degree level, the ratio of female to male students of computer science is actually decreasing. The number of female graduates in 2018 was barely any higher than it was in 2014 (2710 in 2014, 2795 in 2018).
It’s too early to say what the progression rates of girls from GCSE computing onto computer science degrees will be. Although the numbers of girls sitting GCSE computing have increased by almost 500% between 2014-8, progression rates from GCSE to A Level dropped from 23.7% in 2016 to 9.7% in 2018.
Given the declining numbers of women graduating with computer science degrees, it could be that they are being put off by perceptions and/or the reality of the student experience. Evidence from the US suggests that higher female dropout rates can be attributed to the culture they meet when they enrol. As Elizabeth Ames of the Anita Borg Institute puts it:-
“Tech leaders have to stop saying “it’s a pipeline problem,” because that’s essentially a cop-out. They need to focus on what they can do in their organisation to improve the ecosystem overall.”
There’s also the question of how we can encourage more women who didn’t take formal computing qualifications to join the workforce. Amazon, one of WISE’s strategic partners, will speak at our Conference about the Amazon Amplify programme, launched on International Women’s Day to address issues identified through WISE’s Making a Difference report on women in innovation. A third of women interviewed for the research didn’t start out with a STEM qualification, which suggests that there is a real opportunity to increase participation of women in tech by making it easier for those already in the workforce to re-train.
Additionally, Durham University’s Tech:Up scheme, funded by the Institute of Coding, will target women in the North of England who have graduated in other subject areas. The Open University’s Executive Dean of Science, Technology and Engineering is joining a panel at our Conference to discuss what more can be done through partnerships between academia and industry.
If you want a better understanding of what drives engagement or disengagement of women in STEM, read Professor Gina Rippon’s highly informative and entertaining book, The Gendered Brain. WISE Conference ticket buyers will be in with a chance of winning a copy – but everyone gets to hear her give a keynote speech!
Don’t let the scale and pace of technological change leave you behind – join us on 14 May to get up to speed with the latest evidence on how to future-proof our skills and our future.
Written by Helen Wollaston, WISE CEO