The tech sector is growing 50% faster than other industries and has average salaries of £51,000 – 40% higher than the national average, yet more than half of companies are struggling to fill vacancies.
It’s a no brainer therefore for women not to put themselves forward and for companies not to offer them training, says Amali Amali de Alwis, CEO of the multi-award winning social enterprise Code First: Girls which teaches women to code.
She adds that the percentage of women in tech has fallen since the early days of the information technology revolution, despite their actual numbers increasing. Women make up around 17% of the tech workforce. One of the reasons for the low numbers is that young girls don’t see technology as being a career for them – and neither do their parents, who are also often not aware of many of the new jobs and careers technology is generating. “From a young age girls are not having conversations about technology-related careers and getting the type of skills they need,” says Amali. “They are not actively encouraged.” They are also hampered by a lack of positive role models and poor careers advice at school when they come to choose their crucial A Level subjects, she adds. Not addressing the outcome of this combination of factors will undoubtedly impact gender pay gaps in the future.
Code First: Girls aims to ensure this isn’t the case and since 2013 it has delivered £2.5 million+ worth of free tech education and taught 5,000+ women how to code for free. It targets women aged between 18 and 25 for its free coding courses. It also offers paid coding courses to women, Hack Your Career in Tech events and training courses in teaching coding. They are working, for instance, with Vodafone on a training course where they teach employees to deliver coding courses across 25 countries. Other partners include Bank of America Merrill Lynch. Code First-Girls trains their staff and those the bank has gifted spaces to on their courses, for instance, not for profits.
Amali says they are trying to track their alumni and build a community platform to keep everyone connected, with peers supporting each other. She adds that a lot of older women are considering a career change. She herself is a mentor for the Mums in Technology organisation.
The aim of the social enterprise is to help women upskill and to provide a holistic approach to doing so. That means addressing the practical issues that stop women getting those skills, including making the courses for younger women free and holding them in the evenings when it might be easier to get childcare cover. Code First: Girls is also keen to pitch the courses in ways that attract women, using relatable role models which show technology is a career they can aspire to.
The role models can be male or female, says Amali. What is important is that the women see there are different ways to make their career journey. Code First: Girls also highlights young women in tech through its annual Ones to Watch list of top women under 30 changing the face of the UK’s tech scene. The aim is to show those starting out in tech or switching to tech a range of different women who are just a few years ahead of them and have been on similar journeys to them rather than focusing solely on senior women. Amali says that senior women are invited to the Ones to Watch breakfast event and act as inspiring role models too. Half the Code First: Girls trainers are men.
Code First: Girls is in the middle of its big 2020 campaign to teach 20,000 women to code for free by 2020. The programme is upscaling over the next few months. This spring it ran 51 courses; by the autumn that is expected to rise to 90 courses.
Amali says the need to learn coding is much broader than many may think. She says: “There’s no such thing as a non-tech business these days. Not everyone who joins us will go into software development, but understanding more about technology helps them in their industry and makes them feel more confident around it. Tech is part of how we work these days.”