How can we persuade more women into the technology workforce? Jadesola Gbadebo and Shanaz Hannan chart out some potential next steps
“How did you get your job?”
Now that’s a question we’ve both had cause to answer but never before have we been asked it by a group of girls less than half our age. The setting, too, was different. We found ourselves surrounded by students at the Digital Her Roadshow, set up by Manchester Digital to inspire more than 1,200 school girls to consider a future within digital and technology.
Talk about an inspiring project. The event, which saw us take part in speed networking with groups of 10-15 Year 8 students from various schools in Manchester, was a great success and also got us thinking: what more can be done to demolish the deep-rooted myth that Tech is a career option open only for men?
More than just coding
It is clear that ours is a sector replete with misconceptions amongst those who don’t work in it – yet.
Research has found girls at a young age disregard potential STEM career pathways, hence the work of Manchester Digital working with girls aged mainly between 12 and 13 to encourage a change.
This meant that at the roadshow we were peppered with questions about the type of work we do, as well as things like who inspires us in technology, and the advantage of being from our generation and working in the sector. Such questioning gave us the opportunity to help the students understand that tech is about far more than coding and being crouched over your laptop 24/7. The reality is far more diverse and interesting.
From learning about and deploying next generation digital advances, building relationships with colleagues inside and outside of your workplace and working with interesting public and private organisations around the world, a career in tech opens up new avenues and challenges on a daily basis.
There is also a profound sense of mission about what we do. Helping organisations harness the almost limitless potential of technology to transform operations, improve services to the public and – in our case at least – help nations, governments and businesses around the world defend themselves against cybercrime, is a combination guaranteed to blast you out of bed each weekday morning.
At the roadshow, we also had the pleasure of listening to the story of one of the young student role models who had gained various opportunities with the help of Manchester Digital. She has taken part in a number of hackathons and is now completing some work experience where she is learning about data analytics and other experiences that help her studies in A-Level Computer Science.
She was both a huge inspiration and vivid reminder that there are so many talented young girls who just need to be given the necessary insight and support to be able to realise their potential.
So what needs to be done?
It’s important that organisations continue to support the work of programmes such as Digital Her and encourage curiosity in young women. Such events help share stories and demonstrate the variety of pathways that can lead to a flourishing career in technology. Young women also need to gain greater familiarity with what technology roles actually involve. Practical experience can be a huge influence, as it did for us in our careers.
The roadshow was an experience that we wish we’d had when we were younger. But the sheer numbers of girls present at the event, together with their huge passion and interest in pursuing a career in tech, fills us with optimism about what might lie over the horizon.
Although there is much still to do, we believe ours will soon be an industry shaped not only by cutting edge advances but one where gender balance is the norm, and not the exception.
Learn about the BAE Systems All In Club, a community of people who want to improve gender balance and diversity in our workplace and industry.