What’s the exam result for girls in tech?

August 29, 2018

We may not be teenagers anymore, but the August exam results still hold us in thrall. If you have children of your own, it can be make-or-break time for ambitions and university aspirations. For everyone else, exam results are an opportunity to benchmark the future generation of workers. What can we expect from the talent pool of tomorrow?

In the tech sector, a lack of diversity is one of our most serious issues. The industry is growing 2.6 times faster than the UK economy – with jobs increasing accordingly – but our gender ratio remains poor. According to the Tech Nation Report 2017, women in tech were outnumbered 4:1, and numbers won’t have risen much since then.

To improve diversity in the sector, we need more young women to be taking STEM subjects at school as a first step towards a tech career – and has 2018 delivered? Encouragingly, STEM subjects are on the rise at A Level, now accounting for a third of all subjects. The new Computing qualification is also increasing in popularity at both A Level and GCSE, although the majority of the cohort is male.

Frustratingly, while girls have the capacity to be just as good if not better than their male counterparts in STEM subjects, they just aren’t taking them. This years’ A Level results showed females received higher grades in physics, biology, design and technology on average despite being outnumbered in class. The proficiency is there, but not the interest or appropriate encouragement to prevent them from disregarding what is fast becoming a crucial area of global industry.

Recent PWC research is insightful: a survey of over 2,000 A Level and university students found that only 27% of women would consider a career in tech and a mere 3% think of it as a first choice. A lack of visible role models is an issue; only 22% of all students could name a famous woman working in tech. There is also gender discrimination in career guidance, with only 16% of females having had a role in tech suggested to them compared to 33% of males.

These findings are backed up by a survey published by the Institute of Fiscal Studies ahead of the 2018 GCSE results that looked at why capable girls are dissuaded from pursuing subjects like maths and physics at A Level. The research found that despite being predicted high GCSE grades in maths or sciences, most girls wouldn’t take the subjects further even when offered scholarships. The barriers reported were low confidence and a fear of being the minority, but girls mentioned that more visible role models could help persuade them.

Awareness is clearly still an issue, and this can only be tackled by continuing the great work that is already happening across the country to raise the profile of tech jobs and the women who have succeeded in key STEM areas of industry. Apprenticeships are providing accessibility for the keen, and interest is being nurtured through regional and national contests in areas such as cyber security. These contests are fun, but also help to educate young people on the breadth of roles available in the tech sector. Some of these are even female-only, such as The CyberFirst Girls Competition, and there are a growing number of regional initiatives working on skilling girls in areas such as coding and computing.

Meanwhile, workplace initiatives such as the Tech Talent Charter are raising awareness of the need for diversity and are encouraging tech companies to share knowledge and advice to drive change from within. Simple changes like targeted advertising can be crucial to capture the interest of a diverse range of candidates and encourage them to consider joining a company. Nominet has signed up to The Charter and we are active in supporting the organisation. We are also helping to increase the interest in digital careers through our programmes such as Nominet Digital Neighbourhood and our work with the Micro:bit Foundation.

The media is joining the effort to promote ‘women in tech’. This is an awkward experience for those of us who fit the bill but don’t feel qualified to be ambassadors, but perhaps a little self-promotion is a good idea if it means more girls will recognise that there is a place for them in the tech world. This is supported by global digital initiatives like Girls in IT day, and at Nominet we continue to publish regular blogs that profile the women working in our company to show other females what they could be doing and how they might get there. These profiles have been picked up by external media outlets and prove very popular on social media; there is an appetite, which we must feed.

The wide scale social change required to bring some equilibrium to the talent pool and transform the aspirations of females is vast, but that shouldn’t inhibit us. We can all make change in our own small way, collectively chipping away as our reach and talents allow. These August results present a moment to reflect on the progress made so far and to gather our strength to push on in the areas that need attention. Our girls need to realise that they could thrive within a sector that is changing the world around them. If they can bring the skills and the enthusiasm, we have the jobs; Nominet for one is waiting for their applications already.

Read more profiles of Nominet’s women in tech here.