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Getting women and girls into tech this International Women’s Day

Getting women and girls into tech this International Women’s Day

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For International Women’s Day this year, we caught up with female talent in various roles across STEM industries – from aerospace to cybersecurity to telecoms – to hear their advice for women and girls looking to land a role in tech, as well as advice for businesses on how they can support them in doing so.

Elizabeth Seward, Head of Space Strategy, BAE Systems

What would be the one piece of advice you would give for women or girls wanting to work in STEM?

To put it simply, find your friends. In work life this is called networking but really it is getting to know people from different places, making friends and staying in touch so you can bring the best out of each other. It’s something which resonates through careers from early on, starting at school and then through work or university, you’ll meet people who are interested in the same things as you and by working together you can all move forwards. When they require it, help them out and make sure to stay in touch, that way when you need help, you’ll have a community of people you trust to ask.

What do you think needs to be done to encourage more women and girls into your field?

It comes back to normalisation of what we see in our everyday lives – it needs to be seen as ordinary to study and have a career in STEM subjects. We’ve come a long way since I was at school and this has enabled a lot of talented women to have important STEM roles but there is sometimes still a view that science and engineering is for boys and that’s just not true. It’s so much fun working in STEM particularly for me in Space at a time where our eyes are fixed on new horizons and new possibilities, we just need to make sure those eyes represent all of us to the fullest extent because everyone should be able to do it if they so wish.

Jude Kelzi, Cyber Security Apprentice, Thales

What advice would you give for women or girls wanting to work in science or tech? 

Believe it or not, I started out wanting to be a vet. But a career in technology was always on my mind as my Dad works as Software Architect. I wasn’t aware of cybersecurity as an industry and that a career in this area was a possibility; I went to an all-girls school and it wasn’t commonly talked about. However, amid the WannaCry attacks on the NHS, we had someone come into our school to give a talk – from that point on I was very intrigued and wanted to explore the subject further.

At the time there wasn’t anything for beginners in this industry, but I found out about a competition called ‘CyberStart’ that involves partaking in cyber-related challenges and puzzles that increase in complexity as you progress. I’ve taken part for three years in a row, making it to the final stage in all three. I recommend looking out for opportunities like this, as well as considering apprenticeships if you’re starting your career. It’s a great alternative route to get into a STEM career; it’s a more practical programme so you can get hands-on experience in the business while also studying for professional qualifications.

Destiny O’Shaughnessy, Business & Integration Architecture Specialist at Accenture, who graduated from her apprenticeship in July 2022.

What advice would you give for anyone applying for an apprenticeship or starting their career in tech?

I was lucky enough to have attended Accenture’s open day, during which it talked us through what it was looking for during the process. This helped, but if you don’t have that opportunity then reach out and ask the hiring team at that company.

Within my application I was required to demonstrate my willingness to learn and my passion for technology, as recruiters want to know that you are passionate about what you are looking to learn. I had to ensure my statements were all backed up with relevant examples; one particular method I used was the STAR technique. I also had to highlight my soft skills, such as customer service, to show that I can engage with people and gain the client’s trust from a sales perspective.

Earning a place as an apprentice isn’t about your specific subjects or grades; it’s more about having a strong interest in the role, your experience and your soft skills. In an interview, you should always be yourself, show your passion and believe in yourself!

Ayshea Robertson, People & Culture Director at Zen Internet

What advice would you give organisations looking to recruit more women into science or tech? 

Addressing the lack of female representation in STEM careers requires efforts on multiple fronts – whether it’s initiatives like Step into Tech programmes such as the ones we run at Zen, or mentoring schemes for young women in schools. Essentially, we need to make career advice and support more easily accessible, which can open opportunities for young women to explore what a career in IT could be like. 

Changing how tech is taught in schools is another crucial factor if we’re to close the tech industry gender gap. Many tech companies and large employers already have close working relationships with further education establishments and this is something that should be encouraged to provide a means of sharing real-life advice and experiences.

As well as these early interventions, there is also a great deal that technology employers themselves can be doing. Re-designing roles so they are more suited to retaining female talent and don’t have unconscious bias in them can be effective. Retention also comes from creating spaces for support, discussion and mentoring. Network support groups such as our Women in Tech network at Zen, can help people feel comfortable in sharing and addressing specific issues they may be facing. They can also provide a means to start acting as a collective and apply pressure to create changes in areas like the gender pay gap.

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