Wanted: More Women Digital Role Models to Bridge the Gender Gap

By Melissa Jackson

“If I’d known then what I know now, I’d have bought shares in Zoom,” is a phrase I’ve heard tripping off the tongue of a swathe of people admonishing themselves over a lack of foresight that digital video conferencing platforms were going to boom over lockdown. Eric Yuan, the founder and CEO of Zoom, has made over $12 billion since March. The digital/technical world is an oyster that’s mushrooming and seemingly unstoppable, but is it attracting women entrepreneurs?

No product is made today, no person moves today, nothing is collected, analysed or communicated without some “digital technology” being an integral part of it. In fact, digital technology is evolving so fast that by the time I’ve written this, I’m convinced that at least a dozen future digital millionaires will have secured funding from venture capitalists to invest in their must-have new product. But how many of these will be women, I find myself considering?

It’s a fact that women make up a small percentage of leadership positions in major companies, and an even smaller amount are executives in the technology/digital sector – just 5%, according to research carried out by PwC (Pricewaterhouse Coopers).

They interviewed 2,000 A-level and university students and found that females aren’t considering technology careers as they aren’t given enough information on what working in the sector involves and also because no-one is putting it forward as an option to them.

A lack of female role models is also reinforcing the perception that a technology career isn’t for them. Only 22% of students in the survey could name a famous female working in technology. Whereas two-thirds could name a famous man working in technology. Only 27% of female students surveyed said they would consider a career in technology, compared to 61% of males.

The number of women entering the digital sector, as compared with other UK industries, is falling. Just one quarter of the UK digital workforce was female - according to the most recent government statistics (2015) -  a drop from 33% in 2002.

To address this decline, we cannot underestimate the importance of organisations like WISE – the campaign for “gender balance in science, technology and engineering from the classroom to the boardroom”.

“The more girls that see successful women in STEM in front of them the more they are predisposed to think that they can do STEM subjects too. They need positive role models but they need them on a regular basis, Not just occasionally,” according to Professor Anne Adams, Open University Institute of Educational Technology.

For this reason, WISE has launched an Ambassador programme to establish a network of inspirational, influential and diverse women working in STEM, to act as role models and to work together to promote gender balance at the highest levels within the UK.

Baroness Joanna Shields has gone further, saying, “It is the responsibility of women across the globe that have achieved success in the digital and IT sector to give something back. Together we can capture the imagination of young women and give them the confidence to believe they can create the great tech innovations that will define our future.”

Never more do we need to inspire girls (and boys) to choose STEM careers if we are to plug the cavernous UK digital skills gap.

When I look at this year’s Digital Leaders 100 individual nominations – those identified as demonstrating a pioneering and sustainable approach to digital transformation in the UK – I am excited by the number of women in the ranks… seven of the 10 finalists are women.

Last year’s individual winner, was not only a woman, but one of BAME background - Seyi Akiwowo, Executive Director and Founder of Glitch, a campaigning and training organisation that aims to end online abuse. The young leader winner was also female - Andrea Rodrigues - a student who is developing a Character Generator App to help artists hone their skills. Enthusiastic about inspiring others to start their own digital journey, Andrea also teaches coding to primary school children.

The Digital Leaders 100 goal is to create role models, who reflect diverse and modern leadership and the markets that they serve. The winner is announced on Thursday (15th October). Whoever it is, I hope they will motivate and beckon more women to grab the lucrative career opportunities of the constantly evolving digital world.

Further reading:

Digital Leaders 100: https://digileaders100.com/

WISE: https://www.wisecampaign.org.uk/

Women in Tech Festival Global: https://www.womenintechfestivalglobal.com/2020/en/page/home

We are Tech Women: https://wearetechwomen.com/