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ARTICLE

How Can Education Address the Gender Gap in Our Industry?

November 14, 2016 — by Lauren Jones

This byline originally appeared on ExchangeWire.

In the US, fewer than a quarter (25%) of jobs in STEM fields are held by women, while in the UK this is even lower, at one-in-seven (14%).

Diversity in tech organisations is lacking; and we still do not have enough women in the pipeline to address the imbalance. Despite the fact that more women are attending college, fewer American women are gaining computer science degrees. Here in the UK, UCAS figures show the number of women studying computer science at universities has decreased in the last five years. Not only are fewer women going into a career in tech, but more women than men are leaving the industry. There was more balance 30 years ago; what we are seeing now is a downward trend.

It’s essential that we address this as a priority, especially when you consider that statistics show companies that encourage gender diversity enjoy more average growth and an increased return on equity. Introducing more women into the workforce broadens skill sets and encourages new ideas and approaches.

Furthermore, the UK is experiencing a digital skills gap, set to reach 745,000 workers by 2017, and one million by 2020. Why wouldn’t we want to maximise our available skills to meet these industry needs? The importance of encouraging more women to join the tech workforce is growing. So, what can we do about it?

Schools

This is progress, but there is still a long way to go. Many young women still do not view technology as a possible, or attractive, career path. This can be addressed by making women aware of the variety of roles available in the industry. Initiatives, such as Girls Who Code in the US and Stemettes in the UK, as well as our New Marketing Institute (NMI) achieve this by facilitating careers workshops with university partners. Through these sessions, we show young people that our workforce hails from all manner of backgrounds. Also, that there are many different paths towards a range of opportunities in tech. We also partner with universities across the globe to provide cutting edge curriculum and applied learning principles. This way, we educate, engage, and empower the next generation of marketers.A fundamental part of the problem is that, until recently, there has not been enough early exposure to computing in schools. In the US, only one-in-10 high schools offer computer science. In the UK, the government has received mounting pressure from tech organisations to address the skills gap. This, coupled with recognition that programming skills are useful in any career, brought about a massive curriculum shake-up. Since 2014, it has included programming lessons for children from as young as five.

Communities

The tech industry remains a male-dominated field, which can be off-putting to female applicants. Why join an industry where the challenges and barriers women often face in business are more prevalent? Mentoring and coaching is crucial in a sector where women are so underrepresented.

Partnering with nonprofit organisations to expand access to our resources is also an initiative we offer. We run partner programmes with groups aimed at supporting women’s career progression, such as Step Up, which works with high school girls from under-resourced communities. Through mentoring and education, Step Up helps girls to become confident, career-focused, professional women.

Companies

Due to the lack of flexible working in tech organisations, many women often find themselves having to choose between family and career. We believe companies that encourage loyalty and trust will be rewarded with a stronger and more balanced workforce. Unfortunately, this is not representative across the industry. In September 2015, the Timewise Flexible Job Index report showed that STEM industries are least likely to advertise flexible jobs.

It’s critical for organisations to demonstrate flexibility by meeting the learner where they are. That means providing a customisable learning experience that reaches modern marketing professionals, wherever they are in their knowledge, career, and physical location.

There is still a long way to go. But, there is hope; BoardWatch is now reporting zero all-male boards, down from 21 in 2010. Things are changing already. Our fast-paced industry is founded on innovation, so let’s make sure we keep up!