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How can we encourage more girls into computing?

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By Max Salsbury

New figures have revealed that fewer than 10% of the students that took a computing course in the last round of A-levels were girls. Excellent news for disgruntled ex-Google employees with feverish theories, but bad news for just about everybody else.

With most of us agreed that computers are going to be quite useful in the future, the UK’s already worrying IT skills shortage is starting to look critical when 50% of the population is apparently turning its back on all things silicon.

Reacting to the news, Nadira Hussain, Soctim’s Past President and Head of ICT at the London Borough of Enfield, said: ‘These numbers are shocking. It creates a greater responsibility for Socitm and other professional societies to divert more effort to help bridge the gap.’

Nadira, a strong advocate of empowering women in technology, explained why she thinks girls are shunning the computer sciences: ‘I think factors such as shyness of a male-dominated sector, a lack of awareness and understanding, a continued attraction to more traditional career pathways and a lack of visible role models are all contributing to the issue.’

As for what can be done to encourage more girls into computing, Nadira added: ‘I wonder if enough is being done in schools. Are there the mentoring and coaching opportunities for girls we need, and are our career advisors sufficiently qualified? There have to be suitable networking opportunities available for girls that want to exploit tech if we are going to move forward.

‘We need to raise awareness and create relevant and appropriate work experience opportunities, where girls can visit companies and organisations that can present a flavour of tech-related career openings.’

One of the most significant achievements of Nadira’s presidency was setting up Socitm Women in IT, and the developments that have grown from that. The group was launched in September 2015 to increase the participation of women in the society’s decision-making, and to gain insights about the barriers that prevent women joining IT and progressing their careers.

The Empowering Women in a Digital World leadership programme – workshops, coaching, mentoring and group projects for women who work in a digital environment, predominantly in the public sector but also from private companies – sprang from the Women in IT group. The course aims to help female IT professionals develop their leadership skills, and has been heralded as ‘life-changing’ by many of its participants. There are still a few places available on this year’s workshops that begin in October (click here to book your place).

But it’s not just the shocking lack of girls turning to computing that’s a cause for concern. According to Bill Mitchell, director of education at The Chartered Institute for IT, not nearly enough boys are getting involved either. He has warned that the combined figure of 7,600 students taking A-level computing courses falls well short of the 40,000 needed to plug our future digital needs, and claimed that ‘it’s not going to be party time in the IT world for a long time to come’.

Maybe our future robot masters will be able to find the staff needed to fulfil the world’s tech needs, while we slave in the vast underground prisons they keep us in?

Of course, one of the reasons girls might be being put off a career in technology is the attitude of some of the people already in it. Earlier this month, James Damore managed to get himself sacked from Google after somewhat exceeding his job description of engineer and sharing some thoughts that had come to him regarding biology – specifically that women aren’t as good as him at computers. Though fired by the tech giant, Damore has at the very least found some people on the internet that agree with him and that, on the whole, don’t seem to like women much either.

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