More Women in Tech? We Need to Start from Primary School

Every Saturday we hire a church hall in South London, and open the doors to the community providing supplementary education in English, Maths and Science.

We have a diverse mixture of parents and an exceptional group of pupils. I teach Year 6. I was recently midway through a lesson on Coordinating Conjunctions where I was teaching my class the mnemonic FANBOYS to help them remember their conjunctions. One of my students, turned to me and said “Miss, don’t you think that’s unfair to girls? Why can’t it be FANGIRLS”. Our class paused for a minute to discuss this and then continued the lesson. As we locked the church hall doors that evening, however, I couldn’t help but be struck by her seemingly innocuous comment.

Work on Monday the following week, began with her comment at the forefront of my mind. It has become increasingly clear to me that if we are to tackle the gender gap in technology we need to start in primary school. My Year 6 pupil, albeit with humor, hinted towards a reality that somehow girls can be at risk of being left behind.

Just 14.4% of all people working in Stem in the UK are women. This figure is shocking on its own, but paired with information from a recent study by Microsoft, and suddenly, we’re in the midst of a generational crisis. Teachers and parents have a five-year window to engage girls in STEM before their interest starts to wane. So how do we maximise this time?

Primary schools should be the first step to introducing girls to the potential STEM careers can hold.

Thinking back to my own childhood, my parents were firm believers that my siblings and I needed to try lots of different things. They were keen for us to find something we were passionate about. Whilst tennis, ballet and art club weren’t really for me, I did find myself drawn to maths club. Despite being one of the only girls in the club, it was where my journey with a stem career began.

Fast forward many years later and I am now the Director of an Ed Tech company designed to help primary aged pupils engage with the Maths and English curriculum in new and dynamic ways.

If my experiences with Maths club had been different, if I had been discouraged or put off, I might never have considered technology as a viable field for me.

There has been a rise in the focus on STEM and schools are becoming increasingly aware of the need to promote these subjects from a young age. This is positive and needs to continue. However, if we are to make a difference to the shockingly small number of women in technology companies, we need to show girls that there is a place for them in this industry.

The issue goes further than just encouraging girls. We need to ensure we are creating pathways for underrepresented minorities so we have a tech sector which is as diverse as it is innovative. We need to give girls access to female role models in tech. How can we work with pupils to make the link between studying computing, maths, science or coding and the possibilities this can open up?

From teachers, to parents to community leaders, we need to encourage girls to pursue every subject with confidence. And we need to challenge gender stereotypes including the idea that STEM subjects are just for boys.

As a Director, I am acutely aware that my responsibility lies beyond my own doors. Here at Mirodo, we have a diverse team which I believe gives our company an edge. I’d like to spread the message to other technology companies too. Whilst there is still a long way to go, the field has already changed for the better and I hope it continues to do so.

Encouraging girls into tech begins by opening up a conversation. Sometimes the conversation might be difficult. Like, how do we explain to girls that only 10% of executive positions in the tech sector are held by women? But sometimes and hopefully more often than not, conversations can lead to incredible possibilities. 62% of girls would like to see encouragement to enter STEM careers from women already in the STEM sector. This is a huge number of girls who might consider STEM careers if they could see women already in the field making an impact. This is the next generation of STEM leaders.

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About the Author
Author: Sophia
Sophia is the Director of Mirodo Education. A UK based EdTech company which aims to take the stress out of class and pupil assessments.

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