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British parents steering daughters away from jobs in tech

On International Girls in ICT Day, Nominet research uncovers parental gender bias for children's career choices 

Posted by Hannah Vickers | April 28, 2017 | Secondary

British parents think technology careers are better suited to boys than girls, according to new research to mark the seventh International Girls in ICT Day from Nominet, the organisation best known for running the UK internet infrastructure. When quizzed about career aspirations for their children, parents picked traditional jobs such as doctor (21%), scientist (17%), teacher (16%) and lawyer (15%) as their top choices for their kids’ future. In comparison, fewer than one in 10 (9%) of parents would like their child to be a tech entrepreneur, web developer or computer game developer when they grow up.

The study also uncovered a clear gender bias between parents’ proposed career choices for boys and girls, with jobs in technology noticeably absent in the top five preferred careers for girls, but tech entrepreneur (13%) and game developer (13%) featuring in joint 4th place for boys: 

Top 5 preferred careers for boys

Top 5 preferred careers for girls

  1. Engineer (21%)
  2. Scientist (17%)
  3. Doctor (16%)
  4. Tech entrepreneur (13%)/ Game developer (13%)
  5. Architect (12%)
  1. Doctor (24%)
  2. Teacher (20%)
  3. Lawyer (17%) / Scientist (17%)
  4. Nurse/paramedic (14%)
  5. Business Manager (11%)

In fact, one parent in eight (13%) said they wanted their son to be a game developer, compared to just 5% who said the same about their daughters. A similar theme emerges for careers traditionally viewed as male dominated and being “hard” jobs in tech and science, such as an engineer (boys: 21% vs girls: 10%) and a tech entrepreneur (boys: 13% vs girls: 6%).

The subjects, skills and extracurricular activities parents favour

When it comes to the academic subjects viewed as important after a child leaves education, parents recognise the value of studying Computing, with 45% thinking it will be most useful, behind the essential classics of Maths (57%) and English (55%). On the other hand, when it comes to the skills parents think necessary to master for future jobs, essential skills including literacy skills (41%), numeracy skills (39%), people and conversation skills (37%) are considered to be most useful. However, when considering specialist skills, parents deem language skills (20%) as more important than IT coding skills (19%). This is especially concerning when you consider that the European Commission maintains that 90% of professional occupations nowadays require digital competencies, including programming.

Again, gender bias is apparent in parents’ view of useful skills for their children, as 22% of parents think IT coding skills are important for boys, compared with 16% for girls. Similarly, digital skills, such as those needed to manage a company’s social media accounts, are seen as useful for 14% of parents of sons, but only 10% of parents of daughters. 

IT skills are again seen as less of a priority when it comes to attending extracurricular activities. In fact, two in ten parents encourage their children to attend football (21%), 15% of parents believe in the merits of dance and 13% advocate music classes. This is compared to just 8% who support computing clubs and 7% who encourage kids to attend IT coding clubs. Dads are much more likely to spur their children to attend afterschool clubs involving tech, with 11% of dads encouraging them to go to IT coding club vs just 4% of mums, and 14% of dads pushing for Computing classes compared to 4% of mums.     

Does tech gender bias begin at home?

The study also examined how children are introduced to technology at home and identified another difference in treatment between boys and girls. One fifth (19%) of parents admitted to allowing their children between 31- 60 minutes of unsupervised access to internet connected devices per day, with almost a quarter (23%) first having access between 1 and 5 years’ old. However, boys are more much more likely to have unsupervised access to the internet with three-quarters (73%) being given free rein, compared to 65% of girls.

Parents have one of the greatest influences on their children’s future decisions, much more than they perhaps give themselves credit for, and I encourage everyone to help all young people – and especially girls – to consider the possibilities the tech industry has to offer - Eleanor Bradley, COO of Nominet

Eleanor Bradley, COO of Nominet, commented: “One of our key strengths in the UK is being able to offer young people, whether male or female, the best platform to prosper in their chosen careers – through choice, opportunity and a good education. A major opportunity for economic growth in the years ahead will be in fostering our information technology capability for a strong digital economy, but to reach our true potential we need the skills of the entire talent pool. Parents have one of the greatest influences on their children’s future decisions, much more than they perhaps give themselves credit for, and I encourage everyone to help all young people – and especially girls – to consider the possibilities the tech industry has to offer.”

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