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Carol Chandler-Thompson, Head of St George's School in Edinburgh, recently discussed issues surrounding the lack of women in computing.  Click Lack of Women in Computing to read the full article in the Times.

Smartphones and computer keyboards are designed for male hands; Google’s speech recognition software voice is 70% more likely to respond to male commands . The World Economic Forum surveyed Linkedln users who self-identified as possessing AI skills:  78% of them are male.  Our current gender-based approach to product design is disadvantageous to women and there is a real danger that algorithms are making our world even more unequal.

With the end of January marking the deadline to apply for university courses it is stark that the percentage of female students enrolled in a computing degree course at university in 2020/21 was only 21% so it is no surprise that women account for a similar percentage of the tech workforce. Teacher training for Computing Science is only available at three Scottish universities and two of them are in the same city, compared with other traditional STEM subject teacher training courses which are available to study at around seven or eight different universities.

Dig deeper and you realise that social, educational and cultural issues play a huge part.  At a recent ‘women in tech’ event in Edinburgh, 100 school girls were asked about technology.  They said STEM is perceived as dull; it involves sitting at a keyboard all day, is not taught well in secondary school and they didn’t see it as a career option. Uninspiring curricula and a paucity of specialist computer science teachers, especially female ones, is exacerbating this.

Demand for digital technology talent in Scotland remains strong; one in ten of all Scottish vacancies are in the technology sector, and is forecast to grow. Without concerted effort, there will not be enough women entering digital roles to fulfil requirements.

Girls’ schools, where uptake of STEM subjects tends to be much higher, can offer insight to help address the imbalance. Early in January, we welcomed girls from state and independent primary schools across Edinburgh to show them the real-world careers that computing can lead to. The commercial world wants to support schools in this and we have been delighted by the willingness of women working in tech to give up their time for such events.

There are also some initiatives being run by passionate individuals, like Toni Scullion’s non-profit charity dressCode (4) but until the structural issues around teacher training are addressed this problem is going to endure. Young women run the risk of being shut out of a huge global sector and the impact of this will be a tech driven world designed for men. Scotland isn’t providing enough ‘home grown’ digital tech workers – either male or female – to fill its vacancies.  Work in teacher training and schools to make it a more attractive career option will not just benefit girls, but the whole of society.