I’ve never quite understood the perception that technology is not a sector that appeals to women.
For me, technology and everything it represents is exciting and dynamic - a real enabler for tangible improvements in everything from communications to shopping and entertainment, healthcare and education – every aspect of life. Perhaps that’s why my career took the route it did. After joining The Carphone Warehouse Group in 2000, I played a key role in launching TalkTalk - where I am now CEO - in 2003.
Yet, in the UK, just 27 percent of those employed in the digital industries are women. While, for those in leadership positions, the pool is even smaller, with women holding just a sixth of senior roles at top UK companies across the board.
I can't think of a better time to point this out than today - International Women in Engineering Day, which is dedicated to highlighting the opportunities for women in science, engineering and technology and addressing the female skills shortage in these areas.
Being a “woman in tech” is something I’m incredibly proud of but I look forward to a time where it is no longer a label I wear, because women are no longer in the minority.
That’s why I am really passionate about initiatives that address this under-representation such as the Founders Forum and the AccelerateHER. Rather than just talk about the lack of women in STEM, its mission is to actually do something about it.
With that in mind, I wanted to share my thoughts about how we can better champion and support women working in these industries - and readdress the gender balance.
1. Inspirational education
We need to extend tech education from practical skills to creativity. Including coding in the curriculum is fantastic but we also need to equip teachers with the right training and assets to allow them to inspire students beyond mere functional commands. There is so much fun to be had - STEM careers are as much about imagination as scientific know-how. We also need to think beyond school-aged students to ensure people of all ages have access to digital-skills education.
You can't be what you can't see. If you don't know that a role exists, how can you go for it - or be inspired? I would like to see more female tech experts interviewed and featured in the media to inspire the next generation.
The wonder of technology means that you can work anywhere. Flexible working is ingrained in our culture at TalkTalk and I think more companies should embrace this to allow women (and men) the flexibility to work alongside their families. The likes of the 'Flex Appeal' by blogger Mother Pukka and organisations such as Digital Mums are making huge strides in bringing about this culture shift. More companies need to embrace it.
TalkTalk sponsors the Founders Forum’s F-Factor initiative, which awards £10,000 to a young entrepreneur. Access to these bursaries and scholarships will continue to inspire and help make tech ideas a reality. But awards aren't enough - as we equip people with digital skills, investment needs to be made to the UK’s fibre infrastructure to ensure it can sustain and grow this potential.
If we are going to recruit more women into STEM roles, things need to change. As well as visibility of senior women and school engagement to attract women at the grass roots level, I believe apprenticeships and vocational training would help more young female scientists and tech experts enter the industry.
AccelerateHER is an initiative started by the Founders Forum, a network of the world’s leading digital and technology entrepreneurs. TalkTalk continues to sponsor the F-Factor, a competition which aims to support emerging talent by giving young entrepreneurs the chance to win £10,000 to help make their idea a reality.
This article orginally appeared in the Daily Telegraph