There is a general realisation of the gender imbalance in the tech industry, but when we look at the figures available, the true scale of the situation is revealed. 

Of the three million tech workers situated in the UK, only 26% are women. Within this, females only form 5% of senior positions. Women make up 49% of the workforce in the UK. Comparatively,  81% of workers in IT are male. In need of urgent attention is the fact that only 38% of women who gained a degree in computer science are working in the field, compared to 53% of men. 

The UK is considered progressive in its approach to workplace diversity, inclusion and equality. So it is worth considering that these disproportionate findings are likely to be even further skewed in developing countries. Central Asia serves as one example. 

Although research is still uncommon in the region, one study indicates that in Uzbekistan women only form 18% of tech roles, almost twice lower than in the UK.  Further research from Girls Who Code and Accenture revealed half of the young women who enter a career in technology leave their positions by age 35, citing “non-inclusive company culture”. 

According to PwC research from 2021, which studied over 2,000 A-level students, only 27% of women considered a career in the tech sector, whereas 61% of males thought it a viable option. Within this, only 3% of women prioritised technology as their field of choice. Females (16%) are more than twice as unlikely to have a tech career suggested to them compared to males (33%). The dynamics of accessibility are clearly revealed here, with a lack of accessibility for women dissauding them from considering technological fields before any practical experience has been offered or gained.

As the director of Alif Academy, an initiative dedicated to providing female and male Tajikistani residents and underprivileged groups including Afghan refugees with free STEM courses, we have to question why such inequality exists, and what can be done to address the challenges being faced. 

Shy bairns get nowt (and other leadership lessons from my mum)

Identifying the problem(s)

Various factors prohibit women from entering our field. Stereotypes of what role women should play in society, how we should act, and what we should prioritise are ingrained at an early age, particularly in developing countries where these expectancies remain more rigid. Regardless of where we are in the world, accessibility and expectancy is limiting the freedom for women to explore the technology industry. 

In my view, it partly reflects the unfounded stereotype that the tech industry does not appeal to women, or that women do not value or possess the necessary skills to be successful in this field. As a result, fewer female voices are heard, and fewer female-focused initiatives are made available. With males disproportionately dominating the sector and holding the majority of leadership positions, changing the current gender dynamics is an increasing challenge. 

However, with continuously versatile tech innovation comes the opportunity to change our stereotypes of what a tech worker is. Women in particular need to be educated on these emerging technologies and be provided opportunities to understand them further, and more importantly, whether they would like to work with these technologies in our sector.

Accessibility in education and beyond

Education is a crucial fulcrum between ambition and stereotypes; we need to examine the choices men and women make before they start their careers. In developed countries, we’d expect to see a positive representation of women in STEM courses. However, UK university enrolment figures in 2021 show the majority of higher-education enrollees are female, with a 56.6% share. The gender split for IT courses in 2021 details that, of 129,610 UCAS applications, only 22,710 – or 17.5% – were female. Any attempt to promote more women pursuing careers in tech has to take this into account. Women need to be encouraged in early education to consider pursuing training in the tech field or at least be encouraged to explore their interest in the industry.

Take Alif Academy as an example. Of 2,000 graduates, only 447 of them are girls. We are one of the only programming schools in Tajikistan that provides IT courses only for girls, where teachers, assistants and mentors are women. With a female-led infrastructure, we hope to challenge the gender bias’ halting IT career ambitions for women of all ages.

Of course, the formulation of career choices occurs long before university course selections, which is why Alif Academy gives a specific focus on children in elementary school. By providing clearer guidance and examples to young students, we take a proactive approach to tackle gender equality in the future more widely. 

To formulate a system that accepts more women into technological industries, increased awareness is needed to challenge stereotypes of who a tech worker is. There are several ways to do this, with efforts dependent on the culture, country, and prevalence of females already in tech positions.

Promote the female journey

Speaking events, podcasts, written thought-leadership and broadcast or TV appearances are a great start when amplifying female voices. They must increase in frequency and accessibility. Many women who have risen to the top of large multinational corporations have fantastic insights about their career journeys and can provide a tangible success story of how they overcome gender-specific adversities. This is an imperative step to producing a more equal technology sector. If male voices continue to dominate there is little opportunity for women to relate and aspire, damaging ambition before careers have had a chance to flourish.

Amplified voices and accessible initiatives

Women currently working in the sector need to be provided with an equal platform and share of voice so they can freely and openly discuss their experiences, expertise, and careers so far. Championing female experiences in the tech sector and promoting international case studies can prove crucial in increasing awareness of the opportunities women can have in our sector. Rather than limiting the conversation, we need to ensure it picks up speed and momentum. Doing so will have a direct benefit for the diversity of our sector going forward. 

Finally, the tech sector needs to be accessible to women of all ages, socio-economic backgrounds and ethnicities. Whether it be increased marketing, female-led initiatives, scholarships or funds, proactive accessibility will prove key. Companies currently with or without relative equal gender splits must do more to implement, spread awareness of, and encourage enrolment in these opportunities. The best way to reach women is to target these opportunities to women of all ages, regardless of their career or education stages. Women with an interest in technological fields must be provided with appropriate resources whenever they desire them.

Alif Academy, among other worldwide initiatives, has highlighted how impactful these education opportunities, particularly when easily accessible, can be. We’ve started to make headway in Tajikistan, and I look forward to seeing our mission replicated in other regions and industries. The tech sector at large can benefit from a more diverse and equal work force and I look forward to seeing how initiatives and conversations evolve in the near future.

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