According to new research conducted by Edinburgh Napier University for Scotland’s Digital Technology Skills Group and partners, women account for only 18 per cent of the digital technologies workforce in Scotland.
The Tackling the Gender Technology Gap Together study found that few girls are pursuing digital technologies-based university study and employment.
Lower levels of female participation in the area are echoed at a school level. Girls make up only 20 per cent of Computing Studies National 5s and women hold only 16 per cent of degree places on university computing courses.
Over 65 per cent of students, employers and employees in the digital technologies sector cited a lack of women studying the required subjects as a reason for this unequal representation.
However, the industry also attracts women from different educational backgrounds, with around half of women in digital roles receiving their degrees in the creative arts, business studies and natural sciences sectors.
Speaking to The Student, Chris Belous, Women’s Liberation Group Convener at the University of Edinburgh, said: “Unfortunately it’s not as normalised in our society for women to be successful in tech – because science and tech is still seen so much as a ‘boy’s world’.
“The support and encouragement for young girls and women to get involved and pursue science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects just isn’t there, and so fewer women go on to do it at university – and those who do, find it difficult to be in male-dominated environments and may even drop out.”
Belous added: “The environments which women in tech go into are also just not healthy – there might not be any childcare facilities, there might be a real culture of toxic masculinity and misogyny affecting women’s ability to work and also whether women in tech are respected, and so on.”
In response to the gender imbalance, a group of experts, chaired by Evelyn Walker of Hewlett Packard Enterprise, has been set up by Scotland’s Digital Technology Skills Group to develop an action plan to attract more women into technology.
Walker told The Student: “Addressing the gender imbalance will not be a short term issue and significant work will be required by a range of stakeholders including education, industry and public agencies.
“Initiatives such as extracurricular coding groups, mentoring schemes, and the Digital World campaign which is raising awareness and changing perceptions of digital technology careers, are making progress but we need to do more and refine our strategies to reach more females, more effectively”, she added.
In order to increase the number of women in the tech industry, Belous suggests that “normalising the idea that women should be in the tech workforce, not just among other women, but among men as well, would go a long way to helping.
“There are multiple schemes getting women into STEM subjects throughout the school system which are also really positive, but they are clearly not doing enough because there is still so much of a culture change which needs to happen in the workplace as well as in education”, Belous continued.
The Digital Technology Skills Group are currently developing actions to combat the gender gap. They hope to tackle the issue by including and improving the use of role models in schools, promoting the benefits of gender parity and workplace flexiblity, extending the reach of technology into other subjects and supporting employers to attract, retain and promote female participation.
The group will also continue to ensure that it engages girls and women across all of its initiatives including Scotland’s Digital Xtra Fund for extracurricular computing projects.
Walker told The Student: “the imbalance starts while girls are in school so it is important that solutions are developed to tackle this issue from early years onwards.
“However, attracting more females to enter digital technology careers is only part of the solution. Women should be encouraged to remain in the sector and to progress into interesting, rewarding and senior roles,” she concluded.
Image: Marcie Casas