Cisco UK & Ireland Blog

Bringing gender equality to the front of the queue

December 4, 2015

Imagine a dark server room filled with blue collared engineers, or a life behind a desk coding, arguably not every girls dream job, but unfortunately a perception many still hold when it comes to a career in technology. These pre-conceived ideas that surround the industry need to be dramatically challenged to achieve gender parity in the technology sector.

The brilliant thing is though, change is happening. Last week, Cisco launched the Little Big Awards, which looks to encourage children to realise the potential of connecting the unconnected and understand the impact it will have on their world and society. Check out the launch of the awards at the video here.

In August this year, #ILookLikeAnEngineer – a hashtag aimed at dispelling myths around how women in STEM industries look – took Twitter by storm. November also saw Ada, the National College for Digital Skills named after Ada Lovelace, announce that they have started to recruit students ahead of its opening next September, onto a curriculum with a mix of science subjects, work experience and apprenticeships. These are just two examples of how perceptions are being challenged and changed, and I’m very proud to say at Cisco we are playing our role to encourage females into the fantastic career of technology.

To help with the development of young creative minds, Cisco runs an Apprenticeship scheme aimed at guiding, teaching and bridging the skills gap of the people of our future. But how can we attract as many young females into this scheme as males? Well, by using words such as, technology, people and solving problems, we have found that those who wouldn’t usually consider applying have risen above the stigma that is attached to jobs in engineering. As a consequence, they have found themselves in a company that puts collaboration and development at the heart of its strategic vision.

Considering the general industry slant is 80:20, our apprenticeship scheme has achieved a 50:50 gender split, which we’re incredibly proud of. We believe this is due to understanding what it is that young women want to get out of their first steps into the working world. By incorporating creativity into the mix, the applications from women for this year’s scheme rose by 500%. Proving that the way a role is initially portrayed, has a huge impact on who applies.

However, business cannot achieve gender parity alone – government, educators and parents need to be educated about the impact STEM skills will have on their children’s future. For example, by acknowledging the broad range of jobs that come with IT subjects, parents and teachers can guide children to further understand technology and its economic impact, rather than assuming IT is purely programming.

It is common for women to feel disempowered in a male centric technology environment, but I believe that they should embrace these differences and scout for a role model who has proved that they, as women, are just as able as anyone else. For example, Jenny Griffiths the founder and CEO of SnapFashion and previous winner of the Cisco BIG awards, has recently been awarded an MBE and is a great example of women in technology making their mark and being in control.

To succeed, it is vital for women to have their voice heard.  So by females effectively asserting their presence, whether that  is through power dressing or tone of voice, it is important they ensure they are respected and demonstrate they deserve to be there. Crucially though, it is not just the women that have to change their perception of engineering and IT roles, it is also men who need to understand that times are changing and talented people, women, are emerging and speaking out.

A career in technology today is a truly fantastic one; with those entering it now playing a pivotal role in transforming our world. With ever-developing wearable technology, and the arrival of big data, the meaning of a job in IT, has changed. I urge business, government and educators to challenge these stereotypes, let’s encourage the Ada Lovelace’s of tomorrow into the workplace and ensure young females embrace the amazing opportunities a career in technology brings.

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