Vodafone aspires to be the world’s best employer for women by 2025. As part of that mission, we’ve launched events and initiatives to help women of all ages thrive in the workplace. Recently, we collaborated with Northern Power Women to host the first of our nationwide ReConnect Careers Events, aimed at supporting women looking to return to work after a career break. And in the post below, Helen Lamprell, External Affairs Director & General Counsel, explains how Vodafone is helping young women learn to #codelikeagirl and prepare for STEM careers.
Helen Lamprell, Vodafone UK – Helping young women learn to #codelikeagirl and prepare for STEM careers
What can British businesses do to encourage more women to pursue a career in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM)? Although women make up about 47% of the UK workforce, they are underrepresented in STEM, comprising just 12.8% of all STEM jobs. In engineering, women make up less than 10% of the workforce, the lowest percentage across all of Europe, according to the Women Engineers Society. STEM fields are essential to the UK’s world-leading digital industries, such as fintech and virtual reality, and at a time when British employers are reporting shortages in science and mathematics-based skills, we need to do everything we can to ensure more women opt for careers in STEM.
Across the digital economy, career opportunities for women in STEM are wide-ranging, with significant potential for continuous advancement. At Vodafone for example, we’re proud to have women leaders heading up several of our key STEM-based teams, in areas ranging from technology security and technology enterprise services to IT shared services and global engineering. But although there are plenty of jobs available in tech-related fields, a recent PwC survey of UK students shows that only 27% of women said they would consider a career in tech, versus 61% of men.
Tech’s perception problem
Part of the problem, as the PwC study notes, is the perception that a career in tech is ‘not for me’, and as a result, not enough female students are choosing to specialise in key STEM subjects at the university level. It’s not that women aren’t interested in science – in 2014, about 59% of UK graduates with degrees in biological sciences were women, according to figures compiled by WISE, a campaign for gender balance in science, technology and engineering.
But in that same academic year, just 17% of computer science graduates and 14% of engineering and technology graduates in the UK were women, WISE noted. It’s not that women as a whole aren’t interested in computer science, engineering and technology – in fact the UK’s gender gap in these subjects is higher than in many other countries. Take India, for instance, where in 2014 women comprised 44% of IT and computer majors, and 28.1% of engineering and technology majors, figures from India’s Department of Higher Education show.
Teaching young women to #codelikeagirl
Helping more young women access STEM educational opportunities is critical if the UK’s digital economy is to continue to thrive. Today there are multiple ways for young people to acquire the training they need to excel in STEM fields, and these programmes are no longer confined to schools and universities. Indeed, in July of this year Vodafone launched its #codelikeagirl campaign to promote the world’s most far-reaching coding programme for girls, offering free coding workshops in the UK as well as 25 other countries where Vodafone has a presence, spanning Europe, India, the Middle East, South Africa and Australasia.
Coding is becoming an increasingly valuable skill for young people entering the labour market, which is why Vodafone joined forces with Code First: Girls – a social enterprise which runs free coding courses as part of its mission to increase the proportion of women in tech – to offer one-week training programmes for girls aged 14-18, regardless of skill level. These programmes, which run until October, provide students with a basic knowledge of computer languages and development programmes including html, CSS, GitHub and Bootstrap, which they then put to use developing a website at the end of the training week. Two Vodafone Group senior executives – Tanja Richter, Director of Consumer Products and Services in Technology, and Karine Brunet, Director of IT Shared Services, have been dedicated ambassadors for the programme.
Help us encourage more young women to #codelikeagirl
I’m delighted to report that over 70 girls completed this coding course in the UK, while so far over 300 girls have attended our workshops across the globe. We’re now looking at organising more coding courses in the UK, so if there are any schools that you think might be interested in our programme, please do direct them to the links below.
With STEM jobs forecast to grow at twice the rate of other jobs between now and 2023, we need to act now to nurture the digital skills of our young people. At Vodafone, empowering women and helping young people increase their skillset through technology are two areas we are focusing on as part of our 10-year sustainable business goals. By supporting educational initiatives like Code First: Girls, we’re making progress in both these areas as we work toward becoming the best employer for women by 2025.