When you think about the tech industry, what comes to mind? Probably not fashion, luxury and retail. Young women certainly don’t associate tech with these creative industries. New research by luxury fashion e-commerce group Yoox Net-A-Porter Group (YNAP) found that half of girls think tech careers are “unexciting” and over two thirds believe that tech jobs are mainly tied to gaming and consulting.
We need to show girls the breadth of tech careers
According to the study, just 8% of young women think that technology careers are a part of the fashion industry. For retail and luxury, the numbers are even scarcer – 7% of girls think tech careers play a role in retail and only 5% associate tech with luxury. A shame, since tech is crucial to creative apps, social media and online platforms that young women use everyday, such as Snapchat, Instagram and Depop. Aside from obviously STEM-heavy jobs like architecture and engineering, schoolgirls tend to associate tech with careers in telecommunications and finance over the creative industries, even though they all use similar technology such as apps.
The study highlights that young women are aware that there are jobs in tech, but have misconceptions about the breadth of career opportunities in the sector. In fact, it’s not just girls that have a limited view of the industry – under 5% of parents surveyed associated a career in tech with fashion. Young men also don’t link tech with creative industries, but they are more likely to think careers in tech are exciting and are more willing to study STEM subjects.
We’re making schoolgirl errorsEncouraging women to get into STEM ultimately starts with education – from school to the boardroom
Tara O’Sullivan, CMO at Skillsoft
Tara O’Sullivan, CMO at Skillsoft, believes that we need to capture girls’ imagination around tech and STEM while they’re studying in school: “Encouraging women to get into STEM ultimately starts with education – from school to the boardroom. In school, coding should be mandatory for everyone; complex problem solving and critical thinking should be part of everyday life.” Her comments echo initiatives such as YNAP and Imperial College of London’s “Imperial CodeLab” that immerse schoolgirls into the world of tech in the hope of alleviating the lack of women in the industry.
Luckily, when girls do understand the possibilities of creative career pathways in tech, their interest in STEM rises. YNAP’s research found that 40% of young women are more likely to study tech-related subjects like maths and science in school once they realize that getting involved in STEM could lead to a career in fashion. Even 36% of parents would encourage their children to study subjects surrounding STEM if they knew it would help them get a job in the fashion industry.
But we can’t rely on just education to fix the problem
The future of women in tech depends on more than gaining female interest at an early age. The industry itself also needs a wake-up call.
O’Sullivan adds, “Getting female talent into the industry is only half the story, however. Making sure they rise up the ranks is also key – with the support of women in leadership training programmes.
“Ultimately, a lot needs to change if we are to close the gender gap in STEM. Through education and encouragement of both women and men, we can chip away at outdated biases and create a more equal workplace.”