By Orna Herr, Communications Officer (Education) at the British Science Association 


The gap between the number of girls opting to study computing or Information and Communications Technology (ICT) compared to boys is not closing but widening – and fast.

Ten years ago, in 2013, girls made up 42% of the ICT GCSE entrants; not quite equal, but not far off. Fast forward to 2017 and that figure had dropped slightly to 39%. But by 2022 the percentage was in freefall: 21%.

Choosing GCSE subjects is one of the first major opportunities for young people to start shaping their academic futures; decline to study a subject for a GSCE and you’re unlikely to pursue further studies or a degree in it.

The industry booms…

As the number of girls studying computing declines, the presence of computer technology – in almost every aspect of our lives – is growing exponentially. In 1998, just 9% of UK households had a home internet connection. In 2022 it was 99.7%.

The technology industry has surged and continues to evolve in unprecedented and exciting ways. A white paper by the World Economic Forum said:

“Some studies suggest that 65% of children entering primary school today will have jobs that do not yet exist.”

We cannot yet imagine what the technology industry will be working on in 20 years’ time. But with girls making up just 1 in 5 of the young people choosing to pursue computing education in school, can we picture the landscape of the workforce?

… But what about the workforce?

If today’s numbers are anything to go by, the computing industry will remain male-dominated.

According to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Diversity and Inclusion in STEM, women make up just 21% of the technology workforce. Artificial Intelligence (AI) and data science is a rapidly growing field in technology, but the Alan Turing Institute found that only 20% of the jobs in this area are held by women. This is less than the average figure of 27% across the STEM workforce.

We know that diversity in a workforce that relies on innovative thinking is essential. As our blog on innovation and the disadvantage gap concludes, scientific innovations affect us all and, if we want them to cater for everyone, we need all groups in society to be represented in the STEM workforce.

So why are so few women working in the industry? We come full circle back to the classroom.

“A subconscious misconception that computer science was just for boys.”

Women in Tech conducted a 2023 survey of 500 people working in the technology sector on their thoughts on the gender gap.

The most cited reason for why women might not want to work in the technology sector was early misconceptions from a lack of education (22%). Male domination in the industry was a close second, with the gender pay gap also a significant concern.

Computer scientist Larissa Suzuki, one of our British Science Week Smashing Stereotypes role models, initially studied music at university, but decided to switch to computer science.

She said:

“Because my brother did computing, my family could see the value in the subject. But when it came to me, it was a bit different. I think there was a subconscious misconception that computer science was just for boys.”

Larissa found that this misconception spread beyond her family: “At university, I was the only female student in a class of 40 boys.”

The President of the British Science Association, Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon, also experienced being minoritised as a woman in tech spaces as she carved out her career as a computer scientist. This inspired her to set up Stemettes, an organisation that supports girls, women and non-binary people in STEM.  

At her presidential address at last year’s British Science Festival she said:

“Let me create what I would have wanted for someone to reach out for me to join, let me create what might be able to impact, what might be able to influence these young people.”

Showcasing role models and smashing stereotypes

When the Women in Tech survey respondents were asked where the gender balance stems from, 15% said school. A third (31%) also said it’s down to schools to make a change regarding the imbalance of women in tech.

Teachers and schools, despite the huge pressures they are experiencing from all angles, are in a powerful position to make tangible positive change here. Teachers have shown time and again that they have the skills and creativity to adapt to the changing needs of their students and to help them to make empowered choices for their futures.

Research suggests that gender-stereotyped views of computing and STEM can be formed as early as 7-years-old. Our primary colleagues have a wonderful opportunity to shape and shift these perspectives.

If girls aren’t studying computing or ICT in school, they’re not making it to the hiring pool for technology jobs. The leaky pipe therefore starts leaking very early – and this is why intervention is crucial.

So, what can teachers do?

Our Head of Education, Maria Rossini, recommends best practices for battling gender stereotypes in STEM in the classroom.

Her first, and arguably most important, tip is to be intentional with your examples:

“Primary teachers can make sure to highlight the achievements and contributions of a diverse range of scientists of all genders and backgrounds.”

It’s important for girls to see role models they can relate to, doing a range of STEM jobs, so they know it’s possible for them too. Our Smashing Stereotypes campaign can be helpful for current examples to share with colleagues and inspire planning. As a starting point, find out more about our remarkable President, Anne-Marie.

Get practical

Maria also suggests getting students involved with investigative project-based work on an issue they’re passionate about, using STEM and computing.

In our CREST Awards library, we have a number of free resource packs, suitable for young people aged 10-19, which include a range of activities and inspiration for how we can use technology to improve our lives.

The following CREST resources focus on machine learning – a form of artificial intelligence that allows computer systems to learn from examples, data and experience to carry out complex tasks or make decisions in ways that we would normally associate with humans. Machine learning is widely used in our daily lives, such as facial recognition to unlock your smart phone, predictive text, voice recognition to instruct a smart speaker and product recommendations for online shopping.

Looking to the future

A more equal and diverse computer technology workforce benefits us all. To get there, we need to reverse the decline in girls opting to study computing, and the foundations for this change must be laid in primary schools.

We must work to acknowledge the barriers which might discourage girls from pursuing a career in computer sciences and actively work to address them, by challenging stereotypes and harmful misconceptions. Our resources are here to help you to help your pupils.

Read our Head of Education’s blog on tackling the STEM gender gap

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This blog was published to mark International Girls in ICT Day (27 April 2023).