Imperial College London

Calling all women: London's tech sector needs you!

by

Professor Maja Pantic

Professor Maja Pantic

An Imperial computer engineering expert talks about the problems the UK's tech sector faces in the future if it doesn't address a gender imbalance.

Professor Maja Pantic from Imperial College London's Department of Computing, says that London won’t reap the benefits of the fourth industrial revolution if we don’t find ways to recruit more female computer engineers into the tech industry.

Her comments were published in City A.M on 21 June.

Professor Pantic wrote: 

A lack of women computing engineers means future technologies could be skewed towards a male market and failing to tap into the needs of half of the population.

– Professor Maja Pantic

Department of Computing, Imperial College London

The fourth industrial revolution – lauded as the next big thing from Silicon Valley to Davos to White City – combines physical, digital and biological technologies to create "intelligent systems".

The ‘cogs’ in the fourth industrial revolution such as AI, robotics, the Internet of things, quantum computing and driverless vehicles could profoundly improve our lives – much in the same way that the internet positively disrupted the old order. 

But the reality is that the UK has the lowest percentage of female computer engineering professionals in Europe, at less than ten percent. In the UK there are 13,085 more male than female students in computing science.

Why do we need more women? We need them so that technologies evolve in a way that is representative of our communities.

A lack of women computing engineers means future technologies could be skewed towards a male market and failing to tap into the needs of half of the population.

It’s a hard pill to swallow but many jobs currently held by women – from librarians to lawyers – will be threatened from AI and robotics, which will automate processes.

More women need to populate the boardrooms of London’s tech sector. Greater gender diversity will improve the sector’s influencing capacity, helping to guide government policy in the development of this new digital economy.

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The reality is in this new economy, we need women in computer engineering where some of the best-paid jobs will be.

More women need to populate the boardrooms of London’s tech sector. Greater gender diversity will improve the sector’s influencing capacity, helping to guide government policy in the development of this new digital economy.

But the challenge is huge. The Royal Academy of Engineering says the country needs more than a million computing engineers in the next ten years if London, and indeed the UK, is to maintain its world-leading competitive edge.

We won’t be able to achieve this goal if we don’t make it a priority to encourage more women into the sector.

Education is the key.

At Imperial College London it is gratifying to see many female academics and students making their mark in computing science.

Imperial’s Coline Chabran, an MSc student who is studying computing science and AI, is an example of this can-do spirit. She and her peers are developing the tech start-up firm Donaco, an online app that measures a user’s interest in online articles, recommending charities relevant to the article.

Recently, they were national winners of the Imagine Cup, sponsored by Microsoft.

But we need a lot more success stories like Coline’s if we are to redress the gender imbalances in the industry and academia.

Mary Curnock Cook, chief executive of the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, said that despite the clear evidence of a growing gender gap there has been a “deafening policy silence” on the issue.

While government needs to introduce new policies on equal pay and career opportunities, we also need a collective effort that draws on the strengths of academia, industry and the general public.

Celebrating International Women in Engineering Day 2017

On 23 June, as part of Imperial’s International Women in Engineering Day celebrations, I will be hosting a panel discussion with some of the female leaders in the technology sector.

Panellists include Saadia Zahidi, Head of Education, Gender and Work at the World Economic Forum, and Dame Wendy Tan, Co-Founder of Entrepreneur First, and one of the most successful Angel Investors in London.

We’ve invited young women from across the UK to come along and discuss pragmatic policies that are aimed at overcoming gender biases and persistent barriers that keep women away from careers in computing.

It is a complex issue, but we think some of the barriers for women include computing jobs that are currently being viewed as “just for the boys”. The lack of role models due to an extremely low percentage of women in higher management, especially in academia and research, could also explain why women are not entering the field. The underpayment of female engineers, as is alleged to be happening at Google, could also be a major deterrent for women.

By identifying barriers and showing positive role models in the field we hope that it will encourage more young women into the tech sector. It is a drop in the ocean, but it’s a start.

The tech industry could be an even bigger driver of prosperity for the UK, but this will largely depend on how well we nurture our female talent.

Reporter

Colin Smith

Colin Smith
Communications and Public Affairs

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Contact details

Tel: +44 (0)20 7594 6712
Email: @imperial.ac.uk

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