Technology and the gender gap

April, 2021

We spoke to Pallavi Malhotra, head of Huawei ICT Academy Programme, Western Europe about the barriers facing women who want to get into science, technology and engineering (STEM) careers and what she's doing to help break these down

Tell us about your role…

The Huawei Academy is a not-for-profit programme developed by Huawei Technologies in response to the global digital skills shortage.

I support the Western European Region within Huawei and work with universities, colleges and schools, enabling academia to offer globally-recognised Information and Communications Technology (ICT) industry certifications to their students. The goal is to enable students at universities and colleges to gain ICT industry certifications and employability skills.

Can you tell us more about the gender gap in STEM industries?

Since I started my career, we've come a long way with regards to gender equality in the ICT industry, but there's more to do. Research by PwC looking at 'Women in Tech' shows that women make up only 23% of STEM jobs and remain heavily underrepresented in the sector. And only 3% of women say that a career in tech is their first choice.

The gender divide in ICT has widened in past years. The COVID-19 pandemic has made the issue even more urgent, as many sectors have undergone an intelligent transformation and jobs require increased levels of digitalisation. The urgency with which more women must be brought into the ICT workforce is therefore greater than ever.

What are the consequences of not having enough women working, or wanting to work, in STEM?

Not only does the lack of women in STEM have a real-world impact on diversity and therefore on business performance, as McKinsey research shows, these factors are closely linked. The lack of women pursuing STEM careers also further increases the digital skills gap.

In 2019, nine out of ten organisations surveyed by The Open University reported a shortage of digital skills. If no actions are taken, this number is only going to grow, putting businesses at risk of not being able to recruit the employees they need to contribute to an economic recovery post-COVID.

What barriers remain and where is more effort required?

One of the main barriers for incentivising women to pursue STEM subjects and jobs is the lack of inspirational role models for women in tech. Women need role models and mentors they can look up to, and who can reassure them that digital skills are valuable in the jobs market. Having greater female representation in STEM jobs will make girls and women feel confident in taking up STEM subjects.

Another barrier is the current lack of alignment between the digital skills taught in schools and universities, and those needed in an increasingly digitalised world. Keeping up with the fast-paced world of technology is challenging for the education sector, where teaching staff are already faced with a heavy administrative workload that makes it hard to keep curriculums up to date.

What are you doing to encourage more women into STEM?

In my role within the Huawei ICT Academy, I help promote digital skills education for all and wherever possible I support women to participate in the digital economy. We are continuously working on new ways to get women interested in pursuing careers in ICT. I am pleased to say that each year on our programme we are seeing a gradual increase in the number of female students.

One example is our 'women only' STEM classes pilot. In my experience having a female teacher encourages women to join the course as they feel more comfortable to ask questions, and it provides them with a female role model and a supporting network for their learning journey. Another great project is our 'virtual work experience' pilot currently under development with academy partners.

Earlier this year, the Huawei ICT Academic Advisory Board created a working group, which is specifically working on initiatives to empower women and under-represented groups in ICT

What advice would you give to women who want to work in STEM?

Join networks of likeminded women, and don't be intimidated by your male peers. What counts and is respected are your knowledge and skills. Women are just as capable of pursuing careers in STEM, and they should have the confidence to pursue their goals just as I did when starting my career.

What are you hoping to achieve with International Girls in ICT day?

I hope that the Girls in ICT day and the following taster courses will be a chance for girls to find out more about different technologies and the exciting opportunities that the ICT sector has to offer. I hope the event will encourage girls and women to become interested in ICT. It is also a great chance to connect to women in technology, with the message being: tech is for everyone.

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