Julia Von Klonowski looks at how girls could be encouraged into a broader range of digital-related careers.
Education, at its best, should allow everyone to have independence of decision, fulfilment and equality.
It should enable entrepreneurship, leadership and life balance whatever your gender.
Much has been written about the difference between women and mens’ business achievements — often backed-up by a variety of studies and statistics.
This spans a whole variety of career pathways, including digital and technology — an industry which is facing a huge skills shortage in the coming years.
Instead of discussing why, in 2016, this is still happening, I want to focus on what colleges and employers can do to help lose the gender bias and widen the pool of talented employees that so many businesses are desperate for.
As in any successful long-term project, we have to ask ourselves if there is a quick win, which I believe there is.
Firstly, we need to steer away from presenting the opportunities available within the digital and technology industry in too narrow a way.
For example, we should stop using words such as coding, technology companies, STEM, maths , engineering as the only way of representing digital and technology careers.
This is because it is these areas that so many girls see as being male-dominated.
Of course this perception needs changing, but it will take time and is not something we can fix quickly.
What is true though is that the more women succeeding in technology and digital careers will result in more female role models.
This will in turn encourage more girls to follow their lead, which is crucial.
We must also ask the question as to why so many girls are attracted to the areas of HR, PR, marketing, fashion, beauty, journalism, apps and design.
We will all have many different answers to this question and ultimately it will be for a variety of reasons.
However, these sectors (and many others) have already won the hearts and minds of girls — which begs the question, why are we not using them to influence their career decisions?
There are so many technology and digital careers in these very industries, and yet when I talk to careers advisors in colleges and schools, they are often not aware of them and neither are the students’ teachers or parents.
We often choose our careers based on the lifestyle it represents, so we should therefore be using this to “sell” technology and digital careers to girls.
I wonder if we are frightened of talking about these areas because we fear we may be continuing the male/female bias.
Women (like men) are attracted by the lifestyle a job will give them, and will thrive in areas that they feel confident in.
Girls still tend to see certain areas as female domains — such as teaching, nursing and hairdressing, and STEM areas as male subjects. Why not use this bias as a means of leading them into STEM careers?
There is a similar issue with apprenticeships.
These have traditionally been perceived as a male-dominated area, with most people associating this educational route with becoming a plumber, builder or engineer.
Companies can help change this outdated view. For example, if employers within the fashion and beauty industry were to engage girls in technology and digital apprenticeships, this would help to change the perception of our industry.
It is widely recognised that much of the education system in this country fails to recognise the link between work and education.
Fortunately, the FE sector is leading the way when it comes to understanding employers’ and business’ needs, but there is still a way to go when it comes to opening up digital and technology careers to girls.
We need to work with our careers advisors, parents and teachers to broaden the minds of the next generation of women — with regard to the many exciting jobs that are available and the skills that are necessary.
Changing long-held perceptions is no easy battle and for this reason, policy change needs to happen.
However, small steps can and must be taken by employers, colleges and schools to help ensure that the UK’s digital and technology industry is not missing out on some very talented young women to fill the huge skills shortages it faces.
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