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Why are so few women taking A-level computer science?

Tess Hilton

What you study at A-level can really impact the path you take at university. While there are still many university subjects that you don’t need specific A-levels for, computer science isn’t one of them. To study computer science at university, you need to have a science or technology related qualification to apply. And as it stands, just 7% of people taking an A-level computer science course are female. So, what’s putting them off? And how has this huge gender imbalance happened? We’ve done some research to find out:

Male dominated area

Back when computer science was in its infancy women were at the forefront of the computing field, but when the 1980’s hit, men took the reins and began to shape the industry into what it is today. Misconceptions of how this sector is now dominated by men still exist and are reinforced by popular culture portraying stereotypes of computer nerds, with pale skin and no social skills. The trouble is, these kinds of stereotypes can take a long time to change and aren’t necessarily reflective of society.

Take gaming culture, for example, which is built upon coding and computer science, and has traditionally been a male arena. In reality, in the UK, the female gaming population is now around 49% and games developers, both male and female, are beginning to create much more realistic and relatable female characters.

Lack of role models

On average, young girls lose interest in STEM subjects around the age of 15, mainly due to a lack of inspirational female role models in the industry. With little or no female influence, girls aren’t opting to study the subject. If women don’t choose an A level computer science course, then it’s unlikely they’ll choose the topic for further study. The low number of students means that less women pursue a career in the industry. To solve this issue, the change needs to be instigated by schools. We need to see more female teachers of STEM subjects, so that their positive educational influence can encourage young girls to see themselves as the computer wizards of the future.

Gender pay gap

The gender pay gap is a hot media topic and brings with it huge change. Bringing this issue into the limelight has put things in motion which should begin to level the playing field, as businesses have begun to address the discriminatory nature of their pay. The extensive coverage, and knowledge on the topic, could be deterring young women from becoming invested in the industry. Are young girls give up before they give IT a chance? Or are their parents discouraging them from what might seem like a male-dominated area? With the computer science sector, women actually have a much higher chance of earning more. According to Her Magazine “Information technology consistently ranks as one of the best employment fields – especially for women.” So, if you’re looking for a career with a higher earning potential, computer science is a great choice.

Time to seek influence elsewhere

The interest is there, particularly with Generation Z, who are fully immersed in technology. Blogging, social media influencers and YouTubers have become the norm. So, with the clear interest in the field, there now needs to be an approach in place to excite our young women to pursue a career within computer science.

Part of the answer lies in growing communities which can foster a more encouraging environment. Both the government and the computer science sector are beginning to realise the value in providing spaces for young women to find out about working in tech. Like Women in Tech who host networking events and talks to inspire both young and old. It’s sources like this which are inspiring the younger generation and showing them what’s possible.

Read our related blog: Top reasons to consider a career in the STEM fields

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