Following comments from Mark Bates, chief executive of insurance software experts RDT, about the need for coding to become a viable career path for women, Durham University has announced that the number of women starting a compute science degree has doubled from last year.
In total, forty-five women are this month embarking on a computer science degree at Durham University, up from twenty-two last year. This means they will make up 30% of the cohort, which is set against a national average of 16%.
This increase follows a concerted effort from the university to get more women into computer sciences, with the head of computer science, Gordon Love, declaring in 2018 that he wanted to make Durham ‘the number one destination for women in tech.’
In order to make this possible, he recruited Professor Sue Black who has spent two years leading the campaign on behalf of the university to get more female A-level students to consider studying computer science at the university.
Professor Black is no stranger to campaigning success, having previously saved Bletchley Park, the site of the legendary World War Two Enigma-cracking effort, from closure. She has also run a number of initiatives to get women involved in technology.
As part of the Durham University effort, Professor Black set up a new Women in Tech group. Female students were taken to external events featuring prominent women technologists and half the students who represented the computing course at open days were women.
‘It's partly word of mouth because students that are having a great time tell their siblings or tell their friends,’ said Professor Black, ’Teachers will see what we're doing as well, probably mainly through social media. And so they might be more inclined to encourage girls to apply to Durham.’
Recent graduate Zulia Shavaeva, who now works at Amazon's cloud computing division AWS, added: ‘It was incredible to be part of a university and department that is not only incredibly supportive, but is so committed to bridging the gap between women studying and working in technology.’
Writing in The Parliamentary Review, RDT chief executive Mark Bates outlined the difficulties his organisation has found in recruiting female coders:
‘We created a great working environment to help with recruitment and retention, which works well. But while RDT’s staff is culturally diverse, women techies are rare. We run apprenticeships and offer summer internships to sixth formers, but girls never apply and it seems that they aren’t being encouraged to learn to write code.
‘From a business perspective it restricts my ability to hire people, but it’s bad for the whole country – failing to engage half the future workforce will limit progress. We’ve started sending recruiters to local girls’ schools to drum up interest and hopefully start to make a change.’
In just under thirty years, RDT has grown from being a company of three people to a leading force in insurance software with over 110 employees. Regrettably, the number of women in technology has not grown at the same rate.
Durham University’s success suggests that a drive to get more women involved in technology can work. However, the fact remains that just 16% of people studying computer science across the country are female. At GCSE and A-level, the number are 21% and 14.5% respectively. There is clearly a long way to go.