Deni Chambers, Director of Creative and Digital Industries School at Newcastle College, talks about digital diversity. She answers some topical questions below:
As a woman in a digital role, do you think there’s a lack of diversity in the sector?
Definitely – and it’s important that we all take responsibility and challenge unconscious bias that is instilled in young people. The idea that there are ‘boy’ jobs and ‘girl’ jobs still exists and we do see a gender imbalance when it comes to young people choosing their college courses, for example a lot more girls choosing fashion and more boys choosing STEM subjects. If we focus more on promoting STEAM rather than STEM, this could be a driver to getting young people excited about applying their creative skills across the sector.
Working in education, why do you think young women aren’t taking up STEM subjects?
The digital age is here and young women are just as technologically advanced as young men. So we need to address the question ‘why are women still not choosing a career in digital tech?’.
As well as the gender role bias, the sector isn’t promoted properly and the subjects taught in schools don’t match the skills that the sector needs. Sitting in a dark IT room learning how to use code is far from the reality of the digital sector in most cases, yet that’s how its portrayed in schools.
Digital construction in the region is growing every day but young people still believe construction is a job with rigger boots and cement. Actually, it’s far from it. You need to be academically strong (maths is essential), digitally competent and have a creative mind. You need A* students aspiring to work in this sector but at the moment, it’s not promoted in that way.
How can we improve diversity in tech and digital across the North East?
I believe the answer lies somewhere between good careers advice and innovative teaching from a young age. Digital tech is exciting, creative and innovative. It’s a sector which needs talented minds who are methodical thinking but have the ability to think outside the box. We need to raise the profile of career opportunities to young people and move away from stereotypes. We need to find new ways of making the subjects exciting and appealing to all genders and people of all backgrounds.
It’s also important that employers are working to promote diversity in the sector by looking at different ways of working, changing work spaces or even the roles themselves. They need to have flexible working, part time contracts, opportunities to work from home and be offering people within their organisations the chance to upskill.
Accenture are leading the way with ensuring they address gender imbalance and Newcastle College is committed to working with them, starting at a school level, to tackle stereotypes and bring digital skills to life. The aim is to start young people, especially young women, on a learning journey which can secure them a career in digital tech.