Closing the gender gap in tech – it starts at childhood!

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The gender imbalance in the tech sector is clear for all to see. All manner of statistics can be offered to prove the point and it makes for depressing reading. The problem was identified decades ago but still there remains a lot to be done.

In the 1980s, just under 40% of all Computer Science graduates were women. That figure now stands at less than 20%. Yes, the gender gap has actually grown. Computer Science, engineering, and the tech sector in general – the problem of gender inequality still persists.

A variety of initiatives and strategies have been introduced – indeed they are now widespread – to address the issue. These include the likes of mentorship programmes, special schemes and dedicated conferences. The problem, perhaps, is that most of these approaches tend to be aimed at women who have started (or are about to start) their careers. In some ways, this could be seen as being too late. The question remains: Should be doing more to close the gender gap in childhood?

It begins in childhood!

The answer to the question is an emphatic, yes. Closing the gender gap in tech does start in childhood. Gender-specific toys can impact children and help to shape their future career ambitions. It is undeniable that adults – parents and teachers – play a crucial role in influencing the career choices that children make. Outdated views on careers still exist. This means that girls are sometimes discouraged from pursuing a career in the STEM sector.

Children probably need to be targeted to address gender imbalance even as young as nursery level – certainly primary – but the number of projects and initiatives that are in place are few and far between.

However, steps are being taken. Stem Ambassadors is a nationwide scheme, government funded, that aims to give children role models in technology and science. Operating from regional hubs, Stem Ambassadors visit schools to give talks and presentations, deliver lessons, or support teachers and governors to improve the way STEM subjects are taught.

Children will inevitably think jobs in the STEM sector are not for girls if they don’t see any girls doing it. However, although such programmes are not facing resistance from schools as such, in the high-pressure, target-obsessed education culture that currently exists in the UK, schools struggle to fit such schemes in – meaning that they are usually only offered as extra-curricular activities.

Research suggests that even children as young as seven years old may have already developed ideas and opinions of the different jobs that men and women do, so it is important that this is addressed at school and at home at an early age.

There has been a good deal of attention recently on the issue of gender-neutral parenting. However, from toy manufacturers to cartoonists there is still a fair amount of lazy stereotyping and thinking to contend with. Parents and teachers also need to understand the sheer variety of tech jobs and the skills that are required. After all, most of these jobs are ones that didn’t even exist a decade ago.

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