Educators and employers must do more to encourage women into the digital industry

Studying IT at college changed my career trajectory. More girls should be encouraged to do the same

Studying IT at college changed my career trajectory. More girls should be encouraged to do the same

4 Apr 2024, 12:30

As an 18-year-old leaving school with excellent A Level grades and an unconditional offer at university to study psychology, no one expected me to go to college. However, I had a huge desire to explore the world of IT and knew that this was my chance to do it.

So, without telling my teachers (who I knew wouldn’t be keen), I deferred my university entry, took a gap year and embarked on a Level 3 IT course at Barking & Dagenham College.

As the only girl in my class, it was a daunting start. IT is perceived to be a male-dominated industry, and this was very much reinforced in my mind when starting college.

For many girls, particularly those who come from an all-girls’ schools or who, for cultural reasons, are not encouraged to mix with boys – the lack of girls can be a huge barrier to a digital/IT career.

But what’s become clear to me is that there are many, many amazing women working in this sector. They need to be more visible, more relatable and out there for young, talented women to meet and be inspired by.

There are also many misconceptions around what an IT career even is. I thought it was all about coding and programming before embarking on my college course, only to be pleasantly surprised by how wrong I was.

My IT course only had one Java-based module, with the majority being far more business and project focused. The huge scope of what was actually on offer became clear during a national digital skills industry challenge my college got involved in.

This project was run by Julia Von Klonowski, CEO of Digital Skills Consulting, who has many years’ experience in the sector and is on a mission to break down gender stereotypes.

We had to work in groups over a two-month period, to develop a digital solution for a charity. We were mentored by industry experts, who gave advice and guidance in all areas from software development to marketing.

Colleges should ensure their marketing of IT courses is more female-led

We then went to London to present our ideas to all the other groups from FE colleges around the country, and to a panel of industry judges. This was the first time I’d ever done anything like this. It helped develop my confidence and my public speaking skills – as well as giving me real insight into the industry.

As a result, I secured work experience through one of the judges at the Lawn Tennis Association – somewhere I’d never have thought or dreamed of working. This is when I really understood the scope of career opportunities available in the IT and digital world, including project management, PR and business analytics.

I went on to secure a digital apprenticeship with Accenture, helped by the experience I’d gained in the industry while at college. The experts I met as part of the Digital Skills Challenge were incredibly supportive and gave me the confidence to take this path, rather than going to university in the traditional sense. I obtained a First, which I’m hugely proud of and am now working as a business analyst in the public sector, supporting digital literacy and skills in my local community.

To ensure more young women get the opportunities that I’ve had, employers need to make themselves more relatable and more approachable. They need to demonstrate the full scope of job roles and opportunities available within the digital industry and have lots of female mentors to encourage new talent. People want to work somewhere where they feel they
can fit in and not simply be a number.

Colleges can also help immensely. Getting involved in industry challenges is great, as is encouraging successful women to come in and speak to students about their personal experiences and career paths. Hearing this first hand can be inspirational and make the journey feel more achievable. Colleges should also ensure their marketing of IT courses is more female-led, and be clear that there is more to the curriculum than coding.

I want to play my part in this, so last week I was a judge and mentor in the same Digital Skills competition that had given me such a head start seven years ago. The students were amazing, with fantastic ideas and determination to succeed. We must create more of these opportunities if we are truly serious about being inclusive and attracting the talent
that the industry needs.

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One comment

  1. All very valid points, but I do get a little concerned when I see headlines like ‘must do more’. It’s a bit like ‘must try harder’. But enough about my memories from school days. Bhusita provides a great Case Study yet when she says ’employers need to make themselves more relatable and more approachable’ what’s missing is the ‘why’. Perhaps FE Week could encourage a follow up article from Accenture that makes the Business case for investment in skills? It’s tough out there for businesses and with Corporation Tax having been increased from 19% to 25% last year – training budgets have become even further squeezed.
    There is a case to be made, and Bhusita is absolutely right to make the points she does. So let’s get behind her and help make the change. Nearly five years ago the CBI were supporting the campaign to boost digital skills, but have we really addressed the need?
    The excellent Movement to Work have appointed a new CEO this year on secondment from Accenture. I’m sure Sareena Bains would have something to say on this.