Women in the Digital

by Dr Parisa Gilani

In 2015 the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) published an extensive report on the state of the UK Digital and Creative Sectors. The Digital sector was defined as consisting of primarily telecommunications, computer programming and related consulting activities, information service activities and the repair of computers and other goods (UKCES, 2015). The study found that despite the growth of the sector (which was seen to be growing at a faster rate than the UK economy as a whole), only 27% of those employed in the UK’s digital industries were women, compared to 33% in 2002. This is less that the UK average of 47% for female employees

At a global level, Google is a good example of this trend in practice. Data from last year demonstrates that 31% of Google’s employees are women. This figure is considerably less at 19% when we solely look at their tech employees, although this is a slight increase from 18% in 2014 (Google, 2015).

Despite a clear picture of these trends both in the UK and further afield, there is much debate about why the representation of women in the digital sector is so low. Tara Mussell, two time Venus Award Winner and founder and Chief Operating Officer of Ratio, a successful software company based in Dorset, said in a recent Venus Magazine interview ‘I think the female voice is definitely lacking from the digital space. It seems the further you get away from London, the less women there are in senior positions in the digital space’ (Venus, 2016).

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Women in the Digital Sector, photographer: Mahmut Bolat, model: Elvira Bolat

A UKCES 2012 study indicated that women are less likely to enter the digital sector as well as progress in it. Furthermore it suggested that there are still few female students studying related subjects at A-Level and degree level. UKCES cites a 2014 report by e-skills UK, which found that females accounted for only 12% of applicants to computer science and IT related education courses in 2013.

Whilst this perhaps creates a rather a negative picture of the state of the digital sector, and women’s role in it, there are a number of steps being taken with the UK to try and increase female representation. For example the Tech Partnership is a network of employers who work together to create skills for the UK’s digital economy. One of their particular focusses is on inspiring girls aged 9-14 to develop their technological skills and become interested in digital careers, through their TechFuture Girls School Clubs. A similar approach is being adopted in the US though the non-profit organisation led ‘Girls Who Code’ initiative (The Tech Partnership, 2016).

There are also important initiatives aimed to encourage and support the development and progression of women more widely in technology. For example the Equality Challenge Unit (ECU)’s Athena SWAN Charter was established in 2005 and aims to ‘encourage and recognise commitment to advancing the careers of women in science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine (STEMM) employment in higher education and research’ (Athena Swan, 2016). Bournemouth University have recently been awarded a Bronze Award from Athena Swan, recognising its focus on trying to tackle gender inequality in higher education.

There are clearly efforts being made in the UK to address the lack of women working in the Digital Sector. However there is a still a long way to go. With the UK digital and creative sector expected to grow substantially by 2022 (UKCES, 2015), it is vital that as much as possible is done to ensure that progress continues to made!

Moreover, expansion of women-led start-ups being successful and competitive is due to digital technologies enabling access to resources and capabilities that were not available to business women before. Image below is taken by Wandering brand team showcasing the founder and owner, Giorgia Gabriele, using mobile tech to capture brand installation for marketing and connecting with consumers purposes.

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Women in Business with Digital Help, photographer: Wandering brand team, model: Giorgia Gabriele

References and Further Reading

Equality Challenge Unit (ECU). 2016. Athena Swan Charter [online]. London: ECU. Available from http://www.ecu.ac.uk/equality-charters/athena-swan/ [Accessed 30 October 2016]

Gibbs, S. 2014. Women in technology: no progress on inequality for 10 years, The Guardian [online], 14 May 2014. Available from https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/may/14/women-technology-inequality-10-years-female [Accessed 30 October 2016]

Girls Who Code, 2016, About Us [online]. Girls Who Code. Available from https://girlswhocode.com/about-us/ [Accessed 30 October 2016]

Google, 2015. Focussing on Diversity [online]. Mountain View: Google. Available from https://blog.google/topics/diversity/focusing-on-diversity30/ [Accessed 30 October 2016]

The Tech Partnership, 2016. About the Tech Partnership [online]. London: The Tech Partnership. Available from https://www.thetechpartnership.com/about/ [Accessed 30 October 2016]

UKCES (UK Commission for Employment and Skills), 2015. UK Commission’s 2015 Sector Skills Insights: skills and performance challenges in the digital and creative sector. UKCES Evidence Report no. 92 [online]. Wath-upon-Dearne: UKCES. Available from https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/433755/Skills_challenges_in_the_digital_and_creative_sector.pdf [Accessed 30 October 2016]

UKCES (UK Commission for Employment and Skills), 2012. UK Commission’s Information and Communication Technologies: Sector Skills Assessment 2012. UKCES Briefing Paper [online]. Wath-upon-Dearne: UKCES. Available from https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/306419/briefing-paper-ssa12-information-communication-technologies.pdf [Accessed 30 October 2016]

Women in STEM, 2016. Tackling the gender imbalance in the UK tech sector [online]. Mediaplanet. Available from http://www.womeninstem.co.uk/women-in-tech/tackling-the-gender-imbalance-in-the-uk-tech-sector [Accessed 30 October 2016].

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