Entrepreneur

To get more women in tech, we need to start at school

Image Credit: Joe Hafner/Flickr

Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on TechCityNews, a U.K.-based tech news site. We’re republishing it because it’s highly relevant to the whole tech world, not just in England.

Whenever I meet a startup, I always ask what subjects they studied in school. The range is as wide as the roles in our tech sector, but one subject dominates: math.

Given the weakness in the school curriculum on computing and coding, it’s not surprising that so many of our young tech entrepreneurs did programming as a hobby but had a strong tendency towards math in school.

Math is a man’s world

The subject came up in the House of Commons last month. My colleague Jenny Chapman MP, highlighted that two thirds of A-level math students are male.

This divide is even noticeable in primary schools, where more boys than girls are assessed for the top level in math at the end of primary school.

In response, the children’s minister quoted the OECD’s program for international student assessment.

This showed that girls have as much confidence as boys at the age of 5 but begin to lose it as they proceed through the education system, and that that contributes to feelings of anxiety about math.

Closing the gap

There is a real worry that math is too often seen as a boy’s subject.

To tackle this, the government is placing hope in 30 math hubs across the country to promote best practices in teaching, to close the gap between girls and boys.

With a new school computer science curriculum just introduced, we need to be alert to this gender gap in math and understand it.

If we have to set up computer science hubs in the future to tackle a similar gender gap in computer science, it would be a failure. We need to alert to the potential gender divide from the beginning.

Currently only 17 percent of the tech workforce is female, and this is going down each year by 0.5 percent, according to the girls’ education campaign Little Miss Geek.

Programs like Little Miss Geek and Teen Tech help enthuse young people, but fundamentally we need to make sure that schools and, ultimately, the government are monitoring take-up and acting early.

Rise of women doctors is a model for success

The concern about gender imbalance in subjects is not new. There have been some real successes, and notably, there are more medical students who are women than men.

When I was a school girl in the 1980s, the subject of concern was engineering. As a girls’ school, we were a target recruiting ground.

But it was boring — visits to university campuses, and men in suits telling us it would be good to go into engineering but with little understanding of how to enthuse teenage girls.

Last year Women in Tech supported a networking event I organized with 50 young women from Hackney schools. The tech women were inspirational and the best advocates for their profession.Little Miss Geek founder Belinda Parmar was one of a number of women who were real-life role models for the young women.

Engagement is key

The enthusiasm and energy of the Shoreditch tech entrepreneurs bodes well for the recruitment of enthusiastic young students. We just need to make sure that these enthusiasts engage with schools and target support to young women who are half their future customers.

Meg Hillier is the Member of Parliament for Hackney South and Shoreditch.

This story originally appeared on TechCityNews.


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