On International Women’s Day, a day that not only celebrates women’s achievements but serves as a call to action for accelerating gender parity, it’s particularly timely to consider the role of women in the technology sector.
This doesn’t simply mean the tech start-ups that we increasingly hear about or the FANG companies (Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, Google) that dominate the tech landscape but every UK company with an IT department or analysts or coders or network administrators or data managers or any element of tech employment.
There is some form of tech involved in most UK companies today and with increased automation, the use of AI and the onset of big data many more aspects of everyday life (and business life) will be covered.
Lack of representation in the digital world
However, women are underrepresented in both the uptake of digital qualifications and in digital roles. Just 17% of people who work in the tech sector are female and the future doesn’t look any brighter with only 12% of students taking GCSE Computer Science being female, with a further drop to just 10% of students at A level.
These obvious shortages are compounded by the fact the UK needs one million more tech workers by 2020 alone.
These are daunting statistics with real life impacts on individuals and more broadly the British economy.
To help address this skills gap, the Tech Talent Charter was launched and subsequently supported by Government.
AAT and gender equality
AAT has a strong history of supporting women – having published its Gender Pay Gap data as part of its annual report long before it was legally required to do so; being the first and for a long time the only accountancy body to have signed the Women in Finance Charter and regularly engaging with policymakers on issues relating to Gender Equality. AAT therefore had no hesitation in becoming the first professional accountancy body to sign the Tech Talent Charter last month.
The Charter requires signatories to have attraction, recruitment and retention practices that are designed to increase the diversity of their workforce and to measure and share the diversity profile of their UK employees for collective publication.
Britain needs a more diverse, inclusive, fairer and commercially successful tech workforce and AAT is pleased to play a part in helping to achieve this. We’d like to see other professional bodies sign up and for accountants of all shapes and sizes to give this some consideration too. Together we can make a real difference.
As Debbie Forster, Tech Talent Charter Chief Executive, recently said;
“It’s vital for the industry to come together as a whole to do more to show females that a career in technology is incredibly rewarding, to increase the number of females working within the industry, to attract people who are considering a career change, and to encourage younger generations to consider these careers from the word “go”.
Supporting the Tech Talent Charter
We welcome AAT as signatories but would like many more to pledge their support for the Tech Talent Charter and to join us on our exciting journey.”
There is Government support for the Tech Talent Charter too with the Minister for Digital & the Creative Industries repeatedly highlighting that a digital gender divide is unacceptable and that they want to ensure everyone has access to the exciting employment opportunities within the tech sector – because in order to make the UK the best place in the world to start and grow a digital business, the right workforce is essential.
The Minister appears to be making all the right noises, especially around the Tech Talent Charter, but there is much more that could and should be done, especially in schools.
In 2017 just over half of all schools in England offered a GCSE in Computer Science, a subject that as well as offering programming skills and software development, covers cyber security and the ethical, legal and environmental impacts of digital technology on wider society, including issues of privacy. A paltry 12% of students (male and female) are currently opting to study this subject.
The world needs digital skills
The Government readily acknowledges that for the UK to be a world leading digital economy that works for all, it is crucial that everyone has the digital skills they need to fully participate in society. All jobs in the future are likely to require some form of basic digital skills understanding so there should be a requirement for all students to have basic digital skills at GCSE grade 4 (previously grade C) or above in the same way that most employers currently require for GCSE Maths and English. This would be a welcome statement of Government intent and of ensuring young people, parents and employers appreciate the rapidly increasing importance of digital skills.
It would seem that industry is doing more than Government on this important issue. Not only did they come together to establish the Tech Talent Charter (which Government subsequently backed) but programmes such as TechFuture Girls and Facebook’s She Means Business programme have been hugely successful.
Given the plethora of industry schemes and programmes, perhaps more could be done by Government to disseminate information about available programmes. An emphasis on this in a renewed Careers Strategy would be a helpful start.
Any organisation, large or small, can sign up to the Charter. It is completely free of charge. Find out more now at: https://techtalentcharter.co.uk/
Phil Hall is AAT's Head of Public Affairs and Public Policy.