‘Government should ensure women have digital skills they need’

An All-Party Parliamentary Party on Women and Work session yesterday heard of attempts to ensure women aren’t excluded from the fourth industrial revolution.

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The Government should do more to promote women-owned businesses and coordinate efforts to arm more women with the digital skills needed for the fourth industrial revolution, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Women and Work heard yesterday.

Employment opportunities using digital skills

Speaking about employment opportunities in the digital and technology sector, Sheila Flavell, Chief Operating Officer of FDM Group, said efforts by NGOs and others were not always coordinated. Instead they could be very fragmented and initiative-based. “Diversity is not a project,” she said. It is about a sustained mindset shift and therefore change needs to be coordinated rather than “a set of disparate initiatives”. Government, she added, had a key role to play.

Flavell said it is important to open women’s eyes to the breadth of career opportunities in STEM and to employers’ openness to diversity and signpost them in the right direction. She said there is a lot happening, but the problem is that women can’t always find it.

She added that the important thing was to encourage women in, even if they didn’t have degrees in STEM subjects, given the relatively low number of girls studying them at university. FDM’s approach is ‘degree agnostic’ and is based on strength-based assessments rather than paper qualifications. “We need to encourage women in,” she says. “Then open their eyes to the opportunities for career progression. It is all there for the taking.”

Women & socially disadvantaged digitally excluded

Helen Milner from the Good Things Foundation, which focuses on digital exclusion, said it is not just older people who are digitally excluded. Almost 40% are under 60 so it is not a problem that will simply die out. They are often socially disadvantaged and they are more likely to be women. Milner said it is a national priority to address the millions who are being left behind by the digital revolution and called for digital inclusion to be part of back to work programmes. She added that the DWP should consult unemployed women and give them a voice in creating initiatives aimed at them. Speaking about the urgent need to get more girls and young women thinking about careers in technology, she said: “It needs a big systemic culture change.”

Michaela Neild, Government affairs and public policy manager at Google, called for greater efforts to close the gaps in funding for women-led start-ups as the US government is doing. She outlined how Google is attempting to address women’s access to STEM careers through various initiatives, including free computer science lessons to increase the number of girls taking up STEM at school and through free digital skills training through Google Digital Garage. It is also attempting to build women’s confidence in their leadership skills through its ‘I am remarkable’ programme. And it has begun working with the Department for Work and Pensions on its Google Career Certificates which provide entry-level training for subjects ranging from data analytics to user experience design. It aims to offer 9,000 UK jobseekers the training for free through their work coaches.

Professor Kerensa Jennings, BT Group Senior Adviser, Digital Impact, spoke of the need to address the ‘entitlement gap’ which means women expect less and put up with an unequal burden of unpaid care. She cited research showing half of women aged 45 to 65 are the main breadwinners in their families and nearly half are burnout as a result of the pandemic. Yet they are outearning women under 40 and make the vast majority of consumer decisions. There are therefore an important and powerful constituency and should not be excluded from the fourth industrial revolution. Jennings also highlighted the work of FutureDotNow, a coalition of employers, including BT, who are looking to address the workforce digital skills gap.

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