Tech’s diversity push – is it making a difference for interns?

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Any one of us could probably recall a depressing “women in tech” headline. Wise (Women in Science and Engineering) says that 23% of the people working in Stem roles in the UK are female, while PwC states that just 5% of leadership positions in the technology industry are held by women. In a sample of 1,000 US consumers by LivePerson, a US software company, only 8.3% could name a famous woman in tech; that fell to just 4% when LivePerson discounted any responses naming Siri or Alexa.

However things are changing for women in tech, says Anna Brailsford, CEO at Code First: Girls, which works with companies and women to increase the numbers of women in tech. “Many established companies have made bold commitments to hiring a more balanced workforce,” she says. “Some have gone as far as committing to a 50:50 split.”

Yet even at internship stage, there are raised flags about gender discrimination.

“Internships at popular technology companies are hyper-competitive and frequently awarded to those who have completed two years at university,” says Brailsford. “Currently, there is a disproportionate focus on computer science degrees, mainly because it is one of the few degree disciplines that will actually teach students how to code in some capacity. When we ask women what is inhibiting them from applying for an internship, they will often say entry requirements.”

According to recruitment organisation Stem Women, the percentage of women graduating in computer science in 2016-17 was just 15%.

Rituja Rao was a journalism student who wanted to get some work experience before venturing into a career in tech. “I was sending out 50 applications a week, tweeting and emailing people for a weeklong shadowing or internship experience, but I found nothing,” she says, “I just wanted to get an insight before committing to a Stem degree, but I got turned down for any beginner opportunities.”

Eventually she was hired by London-based tech consultant Sparta Global, who took her on despite her non-technical background. “Diversity and inclusion are beyond what meets the eye,” says Rao. “As a young girl, I just didn’t think of Stem as a career, and I carried that with me into my adult life, because I felt that I didn’t have what it needs.” (read more)

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