Equality & Inclusion: Pivotal Actions for FS to Bridge Tech Skills Gaps

According to a recent Tech Nation report, there is a growing demand for tech jobs in the UK but concerns are heightened about a wide gender and ethnicity gap in tech roles in UK firms. Statistics from that report reveal that Edinburgh and Glasgow account for 30% and 28% of all vacancies, respectively – the highest of any UK city. Specifically in the Scotland Financial Service sector, Skills Development Scotland report that there were 1,040 job listings for Programmers and Software Developers in the industry between June 2020 and May 2021.

Following the publication of our financial services strategy in May of this year, the team here at SFE are working to deliver a clear activation plan in respect of our commitment to developing skills & inclusion.

We believe that if we can attract the best people across all backgrounds and we continually invest in them throughout their FS career, then we as a sector will succeed in:

  • Obtaining and retaining the relevant skills needed by the sector, now and into the future.
  • Inspiring innovation through the diversity of our professionals; and
  • Nurturing talent & inclusion from all corners of Scotland

We know that tech skills are in high demand and cover a diverse portfolio of roles across the Financial Services sector, therefore it is a focus for us as we challenge Scotland skills landscape and develop more opportunities for individuals to successfully enter the industry.

This month, SFE's Communications Team spoke with Toni Scullion, the CEO of dressCode, to highlight what can and should be done to address equality and inclusion in FS tech roles for FS. Toni is an outspoken supporter of early childhood education to close technological skill gaps and promote equality and inclusion in Computing Science classrooms across Scotland.

SFE: Thank you for taking the time to speak to us Toni – can you tell us a little bit about dressCode

Toni: dressCode is a multi-award-winning charity that motivates and inspires students, particularly girls, to pursue careers in computing science. The organisation focuses on the use of powerful early education strategies to pique the interest of more students in taking Computing Science courses in school, pursuing a career in it, and being a part of Scotland's growing tech sector.

Female participation in computer science in school and further education has been stagnant at around 20%, so there is a huge amount of untapped talent in Scottish schools. Furthermore, not every school in Scotland offers Computing Science. As a result, some students do not even have an opportunity to learn about the subject. dressCode is constantly working to inspire students at a young age to pursue Computer Science courses, which can help improve the uptake of those courses in schools. This, we believe, will have a knock-on impact on further education and industry.

SFE: How important do you think education, particularly in the early years, is in closing the skills gap in the field of Computer Science?

Toni: To make an impact and close the tech skills gap, we must begin by addressing the issue at grassroot levels and nurture talent at all ages and stages throughout education and industry. This will make younger generations of females not only believe that the tech sector is an exciting career path, but also one in which they can participate and thrive. To support this, dressCode hosts several hackathons which feature inspirational extracurricular activities for girls aged 11-13 to expose them to the possibilities of coding in Computing Science. These programmes are open to both primary and secondary students. More details about dressCode’s training can be found here.

SFE: Why does dressCode advocate for more female participation in the field? In your opinion, what do organisations stand to gain by including more women?

Toni: dressCode advocates for more female participation in Computing Science at schools not only for the obvious reasons of equality of opportunity, but it is widely researched and confirmed that diverse teams, with a mix of ethnicity, backgrounds and genders result in more creativity, positivity, and output. This is argued to be because of the wide range of ideas, thought processes and perspectives that a diverse group of people can bring to a project.

SFE: Given your expertise, where do you see growth in the next 5-10 years? Based on that, what advise do you have for young women professionals who are seeking a career in this field? 

Toni: I enjoy reading ScotlandIS and Skills Development Scotland's skills analysis reports because they provide excellent insight into the tech sector. The tech sector is only going to grow, so we need more coders, whether they specialise in Data Science, Cyber Security, FinTech, or Artificial Intelligence. The core of Computing Science is only going to become more important for the economy and future, so it is critical that we have more students going into that discipline from a young age.

I would advise young women to consider a career in technology. It provides a plethora of opportunities to make a genuine difference and help shape the future. Scotland has global tech brands and an incredible tech community full of energy and a desire to help (and) make a difference. My advice is to believe in yourself, seize every opportunity that comes your way, and seek help if you are struggling. There are so many amazing people, initiatives, and organisations all willing to help. Companies like Sky, JPMorgan, Morgan Stanley, and PwC, to name a few, have incredible initiatives to support and encourage young women.

SFE: The development of skills and inclusion for the financial services sector in Scotland is a key component of SFE's agenda. How do you think financial institutions, particularly fintechs, can build academic partnerships to drive inflows of more skilled computer science professionals?

Toni: By bridging the gap between industry and education real change can be driven to inspire more young talent from schools into further education and the tech sector. By this, I mean taking a real hard and honest look at a typical individual's journey from primary school to CEO of an organisation. First, there is the need to identify the gaps and missed opportunities to support, nurture and empower students. Then, map a sustainable and long-term commitment to the talent pipeline from school to industry.

Inspiring a student in primary school is a good start, but as a country, we must continue to engage and provide opportunities for them to explore and succeed at every stage of their journey to the workforce. These opportunities must be scalable and accessible to all, not just those in isolated areas. If this solution were applied to all areas of the tech sector, not just FinTech, I believe we would have a healthy tech talent pipeline of homegrown talent and would truly be a digital nation.

This is not a simple or quick solution because it must be done correctly, but it is critical that we find a solution to see an increase in the number of computer science professionals. Bridging the gap between industry and education is pivotal, as is collaborating, learning from one another, and inspiring many!

A huge thanks to Toni Scullion for her inspiring words – for more information about dressCode and the exciting things they are up to please visit www.dresscode.org.uk