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Poll: Young Women Worry They Don't Have the Skills for Tech

Against the backdrop of a (now-fired) Google engineer’s screed against women in tech, a survey of more than 1,000 university students has identified a worrying crisis in confidence among young women with regards to their digital skills.

Conducted by KPMG and independent market research company High Fliers, the poll found that only 37% of young women are confident they have the tech skills needed by today’s employers, compared with 57% of young men. This is despite scoring on a par with their male counterparts when assessed on digital skills such as data manipulation and use of social media.

There is evidence that this lack of confidence could be putting many young women off applying for jobs: Almost three-quarters (73%) of female respondents said they have not considered a graduate job in technology.

“The issue here isn’t around competency—far from it—but rather how businesses understand the underlying capability of an individual and how to unlock it,” said Aidan Brennan, KPMG head of digital transformation. “I think this research highlights the work that needs to be done to show the next generation that when it comes to a career in tech, gender isn’t part of the equation.”

He added, “Competition for jobs is tough, and we know that female job seekers can be less likely to apply for a role than their male counterparts if they don’t feel they already possess every pre-requisite the job demands. Businesses committed to building a truly diverse workforce need to adapt their recruitment processes to reflect this, and ensure they don’t fall into the trap of listening only to those who shout about their capability loudest.”

The news on the heels of a memo penned by 28-year-old former Google engineer James Damore, whose assertions that “genetic differences” may explain “why we don’t see equal representation of women in tech and leadership” stirred a rousing debate over diversity in the workplace earlier in the month.

Google CEO Sundar Pinchai himself sent an employee memo, saying, "To suggest a group of our colleagues have traits that make them less biologically suited to that work is offensive and not OK.”

The controversy has underscored ongoing initiatives on the part of some companies to encourage more gender diversity.  

Anna Purchas, interim head of people at KPMG in the UK, said that the firm is already taking action to target women who are digitally capable, but may not yet be confident in their skills.

“We recruit around 1,000 graduates each year through our graduate recruitment process, Launch Pad, and we are proud to have reached a 50/50 gender split amongst our graduate intake,” she said. “However, to maintain this level of equality in an increasingly digital world, it’s vital that more women … have the confidence that their tech skills will be applicable for a role at a professional services firm like ours.”

Earlier this year KPMG launched ITs Her Future, an initiative aimed at encouraging more women to consider a career in tech, as well as Future Ready, an online tool designed to help young people who may not yet have experienced working in an office understand how the skills they do possess could be applicable in the workplace.

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