11 February 2016

Today is International Day of Women and Girls in Science.

The day is to celebrate women in STEM industries, yet, whilst we’re seeing more high-profile women speaking out in the industry and more young girls showing an interest in these topics, there’s seemingly a long way to go.

code club

Some of the young people at our Code Club.

According to Manchester Digital’s latest research report, one in five digital firms in the north employs no women. Zero. That, to me, is extraordinary!

I can’t help but wonder how many of the companies surveys are start-ups with one or two staff. In all honesty, I do hope that this stat does have a sample like this, which sways the data somewhat, because that is a sad statistic for Manchester. It goes against all that we are trying to promote about the city’s digital credentials.

According to the report, a skills shortage is to be blamed for this huge gap. Personally, I think this is more of a generation gap, especially in the boardroom, that we’re not going to see the end of until the currently qualified and residing men are moving on or retiring. As women move up to fill this gap, we will see these numbers organically increase. I do think the biggest issue we have here is time.

The push to open up STEM careers to women is still a relatively new concept and, from our work with schools across the region, we’re seeing so many young girls coming through showing a passion for coding, for tech, and for programming. But it will take time for these qualified female techies to filter into the working world and into the management layers of businesses.

I was asked recently if I think that there is a possibility that women of a certain age are overlooked because they’re likely to want to start a family in the near future. I think that this is obviously a concern for small businesses and always will be, but certainly not for me.

Women who return from maternity leave come back with the most incredible skills. They’ve effectively honed people management, time management, organisational and motivational skills whilst caring for their family – it is a skillset like no other. Yes, businesses have to be more flexible for parents of young children, but so they should be. I hope that more businesses realise this rather than focusing on the fear of losing a key member of staff from the office for a year or so.

It is a tricky topic but ultimately I cannot see a reason why one in five northern digital firms have no women on the team. Literally, no reason.

What do you think? Do we still have an issue with women in STEM? Are we making progress?

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