Debra Charles - Founder & CEO

Why engaging with young women in schools will unearth a new selection of talent

Today, 11 February, is the UN’s first annual International Day of Women and Girls in Science, following a UN resolution. Today I want to talk about the importance of recognising and promoting the equal contribution of women and girls in the sciences, as well as how we can (and should) encourage greater participation of women and girls across the sciences and aid their career development. It’s a fantastic initiative and one which I think tech business leaders across the country should feel a responsibility to be involved in.

One of my core passions is to help more girls recognise the great career opportunities that STEM careers offer – there are so many different roles available – but tech companies are still struggling to recruit the female talent they need. Women make up just 12.8% of the UK STEM workforce! The number of women attaining professional qualifications in science, maths or technology has increased from 8% to 24% but I believe there’s something stopping this translating into more women in technology jobs – the gender gap has widened in the past two years.

If we don’t encourage girls to get involved in the industry we won’t have the skills and infrastructure we need for the future. It is my responsibility as a business owner to help schools do more to set out the variety of careers on offer and to attract more women.

But how do we engage more women and promote the great opportunities across careers in science? The talented women within my organisation put the main problem down to the fact they’re just not aware of the jobs on offer – they previously didn’t even consider a career in science because they weren’t encouraged to do so. I believe there are a few key things we need to do to open up a more realistic picture of the job opportunities on offer:

  • Speak to girls early on in their education to change their perceptions and engage with young women in schools before they decide on a career – this will likely unearth a new selection of talent that would otherwise be wasted.
  • Arrange mentoring sessions
  • Offer one to one advice
  • Be a role model to young women.

All of these things I strive to do in my business and beyond, and I’m proud of the talented software specialists, male and female, that make up our team. As an Analyst Programmer at Novacroft, Rachel Thayanithy has said:

When I was at school I was aware that things were moving very fast in the technology industry and I really wanted to be part of that. I liked the fact that it wasn’t really something girls did. I liked the idea of being different! My daughters are inspired by what I do, because they see that I enjoy it so much.

Of course, the resolution proposed by the UN shows how Member States are committed to achieving gender equality for women in science careers, but it takes more than just a conversation – it requires action. For the Member States involved (the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, the UN Entity for Gender Equality & the Empowerment of Women and the International Telecommunication Union Inequality) positive action is in their best interests because inequality hinders their ability unlock the contribution women in science can make to society, both in the UK and internationally. To address a wider issue of gender inequality, bringing women into science is one of the best ways to ensure they are valued as much as men, such is the importance that the modern professional world places on the sciences, technology and innovation and the key they hold to our growing economy. Shampa Kumar, a Development Team Leader at Novacroft, says:

I was the only girl in my class at school that took computer studies. I’m glad I did!

As we observe the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, we know it’s important to recognise the great achievements of women in science and technology, as well as to galvanise the business community to do more to ensure women’s participation in the scientific profession is no longer an exception but becomes the rule, while giving them adequate support to ensure our science and technology industry can thrive and establish the UK as the world’s tech hotspot, with men and women working alongside one another to drive continuous growth.