The tech diversity crisis: fewer girls took computing A-levels

The number of students needed to plug the gap should be closer to 40,000

There are concerns for the future of women in the tech industry, as recent statistics show only 7,600 students took A-level computing, and of those, only 9.8% were girls. Experts worry the industry is going to face a serious skills gap, and feel it is imperative to encourage more women to consider careers in the field.

The Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) also released figures with a more positive message. The numbers of female students sitting computer science exams has risen by 34% to 816, from 609 in 2016.

The Stemettes charity was founded by Anne-Marie Imafidon, MBE, to encourage girls in the pursuit of careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths. She believes girls do not want to be the only female in a class, which can deter them from computing. A lot of computer science courses will also consider A-level maths students, and this could be a crucial and realistic alternative.

Wider problems

This news follows the sacking of Google engineer, James Damore, last month for his controversial suggestion that the gender imbalance at Google is due to biological differences. Whilst the company found the remarks offensive enough to terminate his employment, they are symptomatic of the wider problems facing the sector, including concerns in Silicon Valley regarding the lack of women employed in the tech industry. Experts worry there is a gap in digital skills and more women joining the workforce is seen as a crucial part of the solution.

The number of students needed to plug the gap should be closer to 40,000, according to Bill Mitchell, director of education at the IT Chartered Institute, BCS. This is a significant jump from the 7,600 pupils who have taken A-level computing. He also believes girls at all levels of education should be targeted, from primary school through to those joining the workforce. It is important to ensure women are armed with the digital expertise required to secure a job.

From 1,000 university students surveyed by KPMG, it appears only 37% of women believed they had the tech skills required by today’s employers. In addition, 73% said they had not even considered a graduate career in technology.

This is complicated by women tending to avoid applying for roles where they don’t believe they already meet every requirement stated in the recruitment process. KPMG’s head of digital transformation, Aidan Brennan, is clear that the abilities of potential employees was not an issue, but that work needs to be done to show gender is not a barrier to a career in tech.

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