How school digital skills can improve the gender gap

“I’m not going into GCSE computer science anymore,” my 14 (21-year-old) daughter is being told. He is a YouTube addict, Overwatch fanatic and – since watching Bohemian Rapsody – a queen superfan. I tried hard to hide the look of despair on my face as I asked her.

I work as a talent acquisition lead for Microsoft in the Middle East and Africa, and also for the UK in the East. So, I spend time working out technical talent with my team, trying to ensure that we attract a healthy proportion of women in the recruitment process – and it’s tough. In the UK, a recent PwC research study found that only 15% of people working in STEM in UK roles were female; Only 3% of women said that their career in technology was their first choice. Georgina’s sketch with her daughter

do not stop me now

Don’t get me wrong, although I would prefer my daughter to turbo-charge her digital skills, delving deeper into artificial intelligence, machine learning, or data science, she made it clear that this was not the way for her. But surely there was not much hope of continuing to study computer science at GCSE level, or A-level at a push?

We know that the gender gap in digital skills starts in school.

Females make up just 10% of A-level computer science students, which in turn has a major impact on the pipeline of talent going into the technology industry. So challenging is the issue that the UK Government has announced an investment in an initiative aimed at tackling this problem. In April 2019, the ‘Gender Balance in Computing’ research project in computing received £ 2.4 million funding from the Department of Education for several schemes aimed at improving girls’ participation in computing.

Having lived at Microsoft for 19 happy years,

my daughter also started at Microsoft (in a workplace nursery) when she was a year old. She has spent very little time with me in our family-friendly office during the school holidays, drawing on walls (this is what I allow), playing on Xboxes, shooting some pools, playing on indoor swings (Yes, really), and periodically make up most of the ‘learning-to-code’ events of Christmas parties or holidays.

She had access to a lot of role models and terrific roles in an ideal office environment. And similarly, she was not overcome by any gender imbalance in the classroom; She goes to an all-girls school. Two of the commonly cited reasons for this gender inequality are lack of role models and lack of knowledge around great career opportunities. So, which was the one that drove my daughter away? It was neither.

Another one bites the dust

The reason for leaving Computer Science is shockingly simple. A keen musician, singer, artist and – as I mentioned – a Rani fan, his mind set when his school timetable would not allow students to combine Music GCSE with Computer Science GCSE. You can combine computer science with any other subject, not just music. simple as that.

Students are advised, in the school’s ‘Examination Options’ booklet, that “for a balanced curriculum you will have an art subject (art, drama, music), a humanities subject (business, geography, history) and a technology subject ( Cooking). Nutrition or graphics). ”

Back in 2013, a report from the Institute of Physics called ‘Closing Doors’ states that most schools fail to encourage subject choices based on gender choice, which explains children’s choice. The timetable issue with the school option booklet are classic examples of this; Sending a subtle but effective message turns the girls off topic. A completely logical combination of subjects becomes abnormal, impossible, as opposed to ideal. And leading the technology list with cooking and no mention of computing, really?

I want to break free

If we are serious about closing the digital skills gap for girls, then tech companies like Microsoft need to take the lead. We need to promote programs that attract more women to the region. It is the next generation workforce. If schools and businesses don’t start encouraging them right now, they will be badly missed. They should provide better visibility for role models and better range of STEM careers. Such innovations include Microsoft’s DigiGirl initiative for secondary school students, the CodeS community, and our Women’s Think Next networking events.

At the same time, schools should remove every barrier to girls acquiring digital skills and studying STEM subjects, especially computer science. If a simple scheduling problem or clumsy written handbook stops, not all role models in the world will help. In this case, it did for more than one female student.

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