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Gen Z Women Will Change the Tech Industry – Here’s How

The incoming workforce possesses a fierce ambitiousness, industriousness and sense of empowerment – qualities that could prove helpful in tipping the gender balance.

“I did notice that I was the only woman in my further maths and computer science classes in sixth form, but it wasn’t until I got to university that I realised I was going into a male-dominated industry,” says Abbie Howell, who recently graduated with a first in computer sciences from Imperial College London. On her course, just 10% of the students were female. “It didn’t put me off, because it was something I wanted to do,” she says. “I wouldn’t let that get in the way.”

Currently, only 15% of science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) roles in the UK are filled by women [pdf]. At a global level, nearly nine in 10 women working in tech told an ISACA survey this year that they are concerned about the number of women in the industry.

But the incoming workforce, Generation Z, possess a fierce ambitiousness, industriousness and sense of empowerment – qualities that could prove helpful in tipping the gender balance.

A study conducted last year by Randstad found that Generation Z “are more ambitious, commercially minded and better prepared for today’s digitally connected world of work”. Commenting on the study, Mark Bull, UK CEO of Randstand, said: “As the curriculum has evolved to include lessons on coding, and with younger people generally understanding the commercial potential of the internet, people are now leaving school, college or university with a much clearer idea of who they want to be and what they want to achieve.”

Anu Pothakamuri, a maths and finance student at Cass Business School in London, wants a career that relates to her subject, and she’s not put off by the current lack of women in tech: “I don’t think I’d mind working in a male-dominated environment, because it starts with you. You can go in and encourage more females – there’s a good niche for you to do that.”

She spent three days at PwC’s women in tech academy earlier this year, a programme where students learn about the rapidly evolving world of tech within a corporate environment.

Vanessa Moore, who studies maths at the University of Bristol, also participated in the programme. Like Pothakamuri, Moore completed the academy programme feeling confident she will work in tech when she graduates, and have an impact. “I want to change everyone’s premeditated ideas of how the workplace has always been,” she says. “Diversity brings more ideas to the table. Women and people from diverse backgrounds can bring a wider range of insights.”

Anna Banasik, another women in tech academy participant, is in the middle of her computer sciences degree at King’s College London but has already completed an impressive range of work experience in the tech industry. After a stint in investment banking, she took a year out from her course for a placement with a blockchain company in Singapore, which she organised herself.

She believes that women are held back by not shouting about their achievements. “It’s down to your confidence as a networker and telling people confidently about your skillset,” she says. “This is the factor where girls find it hard.”

Banasik is used to working in environments where there are few other women around or above her. On her course, her year is “30% women max” – which she describes as still “a huge improvement” on previous years.

In an industry where only 5% of leadership positions are held by women, she says she found the female tech leaders she met at PwC inspiring: “I’ve been lucky to meet some female icons.”

Although Howell’s work experience in tech has included fewer such icons, she has found inspiration elsewhere. “I originally thought I’d be a developer forever and that’s fine, but then I read Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg, which is a great book about female leaders,” she says.

In the next couple of weeks, Howell will start a new job at a tech startup. She will be the only female developer at its London office, but was drawn to the company primarily because of the scope for progression it offers. “There are clear guidelines on what to do for promotion and how long it will take,” she says. “Hopefully I’ll get into a leadership role in the next three to four years, if all goes according to plan!”

These young women stand among just 3% of female students in the UK who say that a career in technology is their first choice. And yet, while this fact highlights the need for the tech sector to attract more female talent, Gen Z may be the best-equipped generation to face the challenge head-on.

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