Whilst the statistics vary depending on the source you use and the definition of what sits in the ‘digital’ sector, women make up approximately a quarter of the workforce. Even less in leadership roles. Overall, the pace of progress to close the gap is at a snail’s pace.
Yet we have the inverse of that figure in the education profession, with the majority of the teaching workforce made up of women. Even at leadership level, whilst the disparity is lower, women still make up the majority.
I’m left wondering if our approach to encouraging young girls to consider a career in digital ought to lead more firmly with the use of the technology – in this case ‘education’ -rather than the technology itself. Could we start to make more of a dent in that gap if we brought to life the ways in which technology can be used to improve the quality of education? Are we doomed to fail if we continue to focus careers information in the final few years of secondary school, talking more of job roles rather than the purpose of the technology we build?
I am an evangelist for the importance of introducing careers awareness in primary schools. Our current model of concentrating careers information from age 14-15 upwards is not serving children well. It is too little, too late, placing the burden on secondary colleagues to fit high quality advice and guidance into a busy curriculum.
In 2019-20 I saw first hand the value of embedding careers into the curriculum for children as young as five. This is not about advice or guidance. It is about enthusing young children to see the art of the possible, showing the application of subjects they are learning, in work situations. It begins the long process of helping them to understand the steps they could take, to use what they are learning to love now, in the future. This need is particularly true for those families who are ill-served in society, who lack the connections and prior educational attainment to support their children to follow their ambitions. It was one of my proudest moments as a governor, seeing two 11-year old girls from one of our academies shared how their learning had encouraged them to explore roles as web designers and software developers at the National Careers Week launch event
The UK government has announced its plans to introduce a new career education programme in primary schools. This is significant in moving beyond cramming ‘careers’ into Key Stage 3 and 4. My enthusiasm for how my colleagues in further and higher education can support this activity will not come as a surprise to those who know me. Too often, the silos between the stages of education system detract from what we have to offer one another.
As one of those rare female founders of a technology business, I have much to gain from increasing the diversity in our sector. It is a source of ongoing frustration for me and my business partner. Our products are most often used in the education sector, even if we are not an edtech business in its truest sense. If the future digital workforce enters for their love of education first and foremost, I see this as a win for all of us.
Lou Doyle is the co-founder of Mesma, regional chair for Wise Academies, board member for Education Partnership North East colleges, member of the BCS T Level steering group and both an Apprenticeship and T Level ambassador.