Covid and women in tech: a catalyst for change?

By Tina Howell
Women could be the digital beneficiaries of the pandemic. Tina Howell explains...

There is no denying that Covid-19 has fast-tracked digital adoption. The use of online platforms like Zoom and Microsoft Teams has skyrocketed, boosting the number of online resources, digital networking opportunities and online communities available to people within the tech sector. 

At the same time, lockdown has seen many people try new skills and explore alternative career options. At the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, Free Code Camp saw a two million spike in signups to its online coding course after just two weeks. Similarly, Good Things Foundation, a charity focusing on digital inclusion, reported that since a significant increase in women accessing its free Learn My Way course in digital literacy. In February women made up 55 per cent of all learners; in May they made up 70 per cent.

So with easily accessible resources and a new way of working, is it possible that Covid-19 is the catalyst needed to encourage more women to consider a career in tech?

Where are we now?

Diverse thinking is not only a gender subject. Diverse thinking enables us to see problems from multiple viewpoints, creating holistic solutions and encouraging creative thinking. 

The events of 2020 have dramatically changed our way of thinking and working, uprooting our priorities, and magnifying the importance of working together, helping one-another and creating a more diverse, accepted and co-operative society. We’re starting to see more inclusion generally within the tech community, with more opportunities available for women as the true need for diverse teams becomes more apparent and accepted. But we still have a long way to go. 

According to WISE campaign’s Annual Core-STEM Stats Round Up: 2019-20, women account for just 17 per cent of tech roles in the UK, with the majority of women continuing to hold person-centred roles such as project management, digital marketing and human resources. If we are to see development in the digital area, we need to encourage women into the profession at a much earlier age.

A new generation

Women in the 18-25 year age group have been especially affected by Covid-19, so it’s crucial that we make them aware of the opportunities available in digital and what they can do to pursue a career in tech. The technologists among us have a duty to help those struggling during this time, providing advice, support and innovative ideas that can help them stay afloat and move into a role that is right for them. 

With face-to-face meetups almost impossible right now, joining online forums and attending virtual meetups is currently the most accessible way to meet other women with a mutual interest in working in tech. Organisations like We Are Tech Women and the Woman in Tech Forum have become important pillars within the female digital community - and especially so since Covid. They are places for women to learn, share their experiences, seek advice and grow in confidence, especially in those early stages. 

This year, it has been easier than ever to embrace online learning from the comfort of our own homes. I’ve already commented on the significant spike in sign ups to Free Code Camp’s coding course at the beginning of lockdown. Women-only courses, from the likes of Code First Girls, are also having a major impact as they focus on empowering women in tech. They run a range of free courses aimed at developing programming skills, from front end development to JavaScript. Several of my colleagues have delivered an ‘Introduction to Web Development’ course, which was moved online as a result of Covid and since September, they have upskilled almost 250 women. 

At a time when unemployment is at an all time high in the UK, it’s important for women to remember that you don’t need a degree in tech to be able to work in tech. Passion and a willingness to learn is what you need, and many women have this in abundance. So much of working in tech is about collaboration, listening to your team, showing empathy and respect, and demonstrating creativity. Technical skills can always be learnt.

Moving forward

Having been brought up in an era where gender bias was particularly prevalent, I am passionate about supporting a new generation of women who do not have their options limited by this generation's biases. I believe parents and teachers have a responsibility to ensure their girls see the full scope of what they can be, including exposure to resources, games and information that might just shape the way they view their future. Implementing the right changes now will shape gender equality in the technology industry for years to come.

2020 has presented us with many opportunities to readjust our ways of thinking and working. It has realigned our priorities to accept technology as a crucial part of a high-functioning society and made us see the true value in instilling true diversity in our towns, cities and workplaces. But I would love to see this year as a catalyst for those with a true passion for tech take the leap; unbound by their sex. I only hope that when we look back on this year in future, we’re doing so as a more equal, more accepting, and more diverse society.

Tina Howell, DevOps, AND Digital


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