Let’s grasp this opportunity to get more women into STEM careers

Posted on September 16, 2020

Shivvy Jervis, Futurologist and Founder of forecasting lab FutureScape 248

Coronavirus has thrust the UK’s job market into uncertainty, with almost half of workers fearing that their jobs are under immediate threat.

Faced with this complex picture, people need to understand how to find secure and rewarding employment – including having accessible ways to retrain, and the ability to change their careers.

With a job market in flux, there is the opportunity to help people to consider careers that they might not otherwise have thought of, and equip them with the tools and training to succeed. As part of this, we need to give many more women the pathways to train and reskill into STEM careers – an area in which women are still hugely under-represented, with only 17% of tech roles currently filled by women.

The lack of women in STEM roles is not a new problem, and is rooted in a range of issues, including the lack of girls taking STEM subjects.

But one important area we can drive urgent change in is the lack of accessible career information about relevant tech roles, which can cause some women to overlook the opportunities available. We must empower many more women to consider STEM careers. To help achieve this, we need information about skills and careers to be open and available for everyone.

Making job information and skills training as engaging as possible is a vital step – and something which technology can help to achieve. Technology can help make information, advice and guidance on relevant jobs more targeted to people’s individual needs.

For example, the widespread use of smartphones can partially address barriers to training or learning – including lack of access or limited time and money – with training and careers advice which is more targeted, flexible and affordable.

Empowering more women to work in digital roles will not only increase their opportunities for rewarding and stimulating careers – it will provide the sector with business benefits of a more representative and diverse workforce. There are also major economic benefits: just a 10% increase in women working in STEM careers would boost the UK economy by £3 billion.

We need to raise awareness not just of typical roles in tech or digital but also some of the more unconventional and alternative routes of entry into STEM careers.

For instance, I’m not a coder myself and don’t have an engineering or science background, but I started by being the storyteller – covering technology and business as a journalist and then handling creative multimedia content about emerging tech for the world’s third largest telco.

To help empower people to make informed decisions about their careers, Nesta and the Department for Education have shortlisted more than 30 exciting tech innovations through the CareerTech Challenge Prize, providing expert mentoring and financial backing to a wide range of promising solutions that can equip adults across England with the tools and skills to thrive.

Nesta is now supporting 20 innovators with digital solutions which improve careers advice and guidance, and a further 11 with online learning offerings which improve learner motivation. Among these are ideas that will specifically benefit women looking for digital careers – such as Digital Mums, a social media training company specialising in getting mums job-ready so they can create flexible careers that fit around family life.

As part of the CareerTech Challenge Prize judging panel, I have already seen the promising potential of these digital solutions, and I’m excited about the positive impact they can have in helping people to seize the opportunities for rewarding future employment. If we can give many more women the right tools to plan their path to rewarding tech careers, we all stand to benefit.

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