Holly Smith, Senior Solutions Consultant, Databricks, explores why our current education system still falls short in helping female students navigate careers in tech
This has been a stellar year for A-level results, with girls doing particularly well, even gaining higher grades in subjects taken by more boys, such as maths and computing. Though, therein lies a problem. Girls do well in traditionally “male” subjects but there are still far fewer girls that take them.
When it comes to the next steps and careers, schools are failing female students, particularly with those trying to break into the tech world. With girls surpassing boys this year in subjects such as maths (a good door opener for careers in tech) now is the time to ensure that they’re being properly set up for success.
Outlining what can come next
Studying maths doesn’t mean you have to become an accountant. Both in schools and universities, there is little showcase of the diversity of job roles suited for those with maths skills outside of accountancy or finance. But in reality, there is an abundance of different job opportunities, especially in the world of tech. This desperately needs to be communicated to students, particularly girls. There is an ongoing huge tech skills shortage in the UK, with the need for AI, cloud and robotics skills skyrocketing post-pandemic – making technology a viable career option for many.
The likes of data science and AI university courses are now much more widespread than before, and the range of jobs waiting for graduates has changed too. There is still demand for the likes of data engineers and data scientists but also a huge need for product owners, visualisation experts and analysts. There are even many job roles young people may have never come across such as a solutions architect, a person in charge of aligning a business need with IT services, products, software and infrastructure. Those who can problem solve and translate data concepts into meaningful insights can also end up in very influential roles – Cassie Kozyrkov, Chief Decision Scientist at Google, is a perfect example of this.
Schools need to enable female students to see the variety of options out there, outlining potential career paths and inspiring them. A simple way of doing this is bringing in a more diverse group of speakers to schools to talk about their tech careers – in fact, many women working in tech have dedicated their whole social profiles to outlining what they do at work. So there are many professionals willing to share their experiences, and schools should be tapping into that opportunity.
The focus needs to be looking beyond just simply getting students interested in subjects like maths and through exams, but preparing them for their futures and arming them with knowledge on the potential careers beyond education. Particularly in the fast-moving technology industry where innovation means job roles are continually being created or evolving.
The unknown tech opportunities
There is so much data everywhere, especially in industries you wouldn’t traditionally think of. Even if girls don’t want data-focused jobs, so many other roles depend heavily upon it, such as marketing or retail. For example, building a food, sports, fashion or beauty business requires deep insights into customers – how they interact with a brand online, people’s shopping habits, and so on. Data literacy, and understanding how to gain insights from data, opens doors to many job opportunities with levels of technical expertise. Technology now permeates through almost all elements of business – and that influence is only increasing.
Beyond simply outlining the different career possibilities in tech, it’s also important to show the general skills that will be important in the workplace of the future – that landscape has totally changed compared to just five years ago. In fact, analytical thinking, innovation, creativity and problem-solving top the list of top ten job skills needed by 2025.
There are also many different paths to get to where someone wishes to go and the different routes to success need to be laid out too. For example, to move into marketing does not mean you will need a marketing degree; a degree in the likes of data science could really set that person apart and ensure a greater potential for ultimately getting that desired role.
It’s a two-way street
Still, not all the onus can be placed on schools, universities and other higher education establishments to encourage women into tech. There also needs to be pull from the tech industry itself. Right now, entry into tech is limited to those showing aptitude for subjects like maths and computer science. But anyone who is good at solving puzzles, and who can work through problems methodically, is a great candidate for the likes of a programming role.
It is perfectly possible for someone who studied geography to go on and become a successful leader at a fintech start-up, for example – and there is real-life evidence of this out there. Technology is progressing so that people can access, understand and utilise data, no matter their level of technical ability. There is now also a boom of development platforms where people can build apps with little to no coding experience.
If the tech industry wishes to address the issue of skills shortages, it too needs to be more open to different candidates from different backgrounds and who may not have taken the traditional tech career path. It is about seeing the potential and possible periphery skills that can make someone great for a tech role. Not to mention, there may be some students who received their results this summer who perhaps didn’t get the grades they wished or on reflection, perhaps wished they had taken different subjects, especially as they start to look more into future careers. There are some data engineers who never graduated and some companies do offer apprenticeship programmes but the options need to remain as open as possible.
The great success of students this year, especially with the surrounding questions of grades and uncertainties, is to be congratulated but these results prove again that the current education system is falling a little short in helping female students to take the next step. Too much importance is being placed upon just getting to the end of school, not for what comes after. For many female students they are continuing to simply follow the same paths as they are unaware any others are open to them. It is up to schools, universities and higher education establishments to demonstrate the possibilities and for the tech industry itself to be more open to ensure more girls are set up for success for a career in tech.
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