Despite recent efforts to achieve gender parity, coding and other professional STEM (science, technology, engineering, maths) jobs are still generally dominated by men, according to one edtech founder.
Speaking on BBC Radio Devon, Kate Jillings, co-founder of schools-focused software company ToucanTech, expressed that while the sector’s efforts to increase female participation in STEM are both welcome and admirable, there is still much work to be done.
Jillings said that while half of her 40-strong workforce are women – many of whom specialise in software engineering – she still finds it difficult to recruit and retain female coders. “We have to really search out the applicants that come through or we make proactive attempts to find them,” she said.
Jillings added that there are undoubtedly many more opportunities for women in such industries than there was two decades or more ago ago, and societal biases and perceptions are nowhere near as bad as they used to be – but women in the field still face significant challenges.
“The way women’s role is with their children,” she explained, “it’s really tough to multi-task and juggle in that type of [scientific] environment.”
Recent research which showed that women have carried the bulk of home schooling responsibilities throughout the COVID-19 lockdown drives home Jillings’ point.
The founder also candidly admitted that if she could go back to redo her school years, she would dedicate more time towards science-based subjects, noting when she was pursuing her education, “science was taught in a very traditional way”.
“I remember doing very, very basic computer science classes as a teenager,” she told BBC Radio Devon. “The only reason we went was because the classroom overlooked the boys’ football team next door!”
“They want to digitally-enable their pupils and make their schools better equipped” – Kate Jillings, ToucanTech
The tech professional, now 40 years old, stressed that STEM curricula have since advanced considerably, and are now taught in a much more interactive, immersive and ultimately effective way.
Striving to help address the lack of female participation, Kate said that ToucanTech works with many schools that are raising funds to invest in tech facilities, saying: “They want to digitally-enable their pupils and make their schools better equipped.”
An example of this is Tonbridge School in Kent, which has fundraised to build a premier centre for science teaching. Buckinghamshire’s Aylesbury School is another example, fundraising for the refurbishment of art, design and technology, and engineering facilities. The school is now just £40,000 short of the total £450,000 cost of the refurbishment.
In Devon alone, Toucan Tech partners with West Buckland School, Mount Kelly, Dartmoor Multi-Academy Trust and Colyton Grammar.