Continuing our IWD 2023 series, former YF chair and Labour Women in Tech founding member Laura Cunliffe-Hall outlines why the next Labour government must take action increase the number of women in STEM.
The theme for this year’s 2023 International Women’s Day (IWD) is #EmbraceEquity, alongside the UN Women Australia chosen theme “Innovation for a Gender Equal Future”, as women fight for equality in the traditionally male-dominated sectors of Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM).
Thirteen years of Tory neglect have left the UK tech sector without the skills we need to benefit fully and help make our Green and Fairer Future a reality. Labour must lead the way in supporting women in these sectors. Our newly-formed Labour Women in Tech network wants to see women fully involved in our growth strategy and tech industries.
We have a systemic labour shortage with 57% of our firms saying the present lack of and access to skills are among the biggest barriers for their companies. There were more than two million annual UK job vacancies in tech in 2021 - more than any other labour area - with nearly twelve million workers lacking essential digital skills.
Women are particularly left behind in tech - making up just 26% of the sector’s workforce with similar underrepresentation in leadership positions.
We are underrepresented in key university qualifications too with 58% of graduates identifying as women, but only 21% in Engineering and IT. Physics and computing still have some of the lowest proportions of women A level students, at 23% and 15% respectively.
Experts believe that if Europe could double the share of women in the tech workforce, an estimated 3.9 million additional women by 2027, it could close the talent gap and benefit from a GDP increase of as much as €260 billion to €600 billion.
If a Labour Britain is to fully realise its potential as a global tech player, we need to ensure we have a long-term plan to address the digital and tech skills gap and particularly encourage more girls and women to consider, work and progress in the sector.
It makes economic sense and promotes workplace equality.
To this end Labour Women in Tech is proposing additional policies including:
- Drive stronger take-up and consideration of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects by girls in education from the early years onwards
- Correct any behavioural bias in the curriculum and school environment that creates barriers to girls and young women considering tech subjects and careers
- Develop a nationwide tech mentoring scheme for women in tech and allied industries to encourage girls and young women to consider STEM subjects and careers, including work experience programmes and workplace visits
- Pioneer pilot programmes with local authorities with an established tech sector to develop outreach programmes to schools and colleges
- Develop targeted programmes to enable career changes into the tech industry for older women and make provision for life-long learning and upskilling
- As part of Labour’s wider workplace equality plans, implement mandatory gender equality training to create a more inclusive and flexible working environment
- Adopt a target of girls comprising 50% of those taking key technical subjects at A level by 2035
- Create a STEM for Girls Fund to support new approaches to encouraging girls in these subjects and industries, with a focus on those from low-income households and areas
- Appoint a Lead Cabinet member to drive an interdepartmental approach intersecting Treasury, Education, Industry, Science and Technology to ensure we have a consistent and joined-up approach to devising and implementing a programme for the short and long-term take-up of STEM subjects and careers
- Define and monitor key performance indicators to assess the level of policy success
So much more needs to be done to encourage the representation of women in technology and engineering.
Labour is the party committed to a green and digital future and women will be key to unlocking the opportunities of the digital revolution.
Be a part of it and join the Labour Women in Tech network here.
Laura Cunliffe-Hall is a founding member on the Labour Women in Tech Steering Committee. Laura was the former 2021-22 Chair of the Young Fabians and is the Social and Digital Media Lead for the Labour In Communications network and runs a mentoring programme called IMPACT to support young people entering politics and public affairs from disadvantaged and under-represented backgrounds. Laura sits on the Board of Dover Technical College. She works in policy for a membership organisation, specialising in sustainability and net zero. She tweets @LauraHall1995.