by Tina Woods
“We could all do a better job of celebrating the women and underrepresented groups in science’” says Dr Jessica Wade today on International Day of Women and Girls in Science. Dr Wade is a physicist at Imperial College London well known for her work to raise the profile of under-represented groups in science, with hundreds of Wikipedia pages on female scientists she has written outside of her day job at the Centre for Plastic Electronics.
There is a critical skills gap looming in the tech sector, and especially in data science and AI. Much more needs to be done to mobilize young people, especially poorly represented groups (including women) into Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) careers. The U.K. Industrial Strategy has recognized the critical skills shortage that needs to be addressed to help the U.K. become a global leader in data, AI and other critical technologies for the future, and the need for education to address this skills shortage highlighted in the recent All Party Parliamentary Group on AI which will be looking at this as a key task area for 2019. The U.K. needs 100,000 new graduates in STEM subjects every year until 2020 just to maintain the current employment numbers.
The U.K. tech sector’s greatest challenge is the shortage of highly skilled employees, according to TechCity’s 2017 Tech Nation report. This is particular acute with women: a mere 17% of the U.K. technology sector is female, and even more staggering is only 6% of the current engineering workforce in the UK is female.
Why is this? There are many reasons but they all start early in a woman’s life. A report, Girls in STEM, by Accenture highlighted how from a very young age girls are all too often persuaded to believe that, in certain subjects, their abilities are defined by their gender. The report showed that more than four out of five parents (82%) and teachers (88%) agree that there is unconscious gender stereotyping and bias when it comes to STEM subjects and careers. More than half of both parents (52%) and teachers (57%) admit to having personally made subconscious stereotypes about girls and boys. The report concluded it is up to all of us, parents, teachers, politicians or leaders of industry, to change these misconceptions, to stoke girls’ natural curiosity and show them that the STEM disciplines are full of exciting and genuinely fulfilling possibilities.
The gender issues in STEM education are a major contributor to the problems with diversity that currently exist in the global technology sector, with serious economic and societal consequences. New technology could have a disproportionately greater negative impact on women concerning jobs, and men currently dominate in Artificial Intelligence and other digital disruptors – with the risk that traditional biases guide the algorithms that will be at the heart of future products and services.
To read the entire article at Forbes.com, click here