Digital Inequality: London’s Achilles Heel
When we hear the word inequality, we tend to think of traditional social and political issues that communities have faced for centuries. Digital equality, however, seldom seems to come to mind, and yet it is one of the most urgent issues facing London today. When Covid struck the nation - indeed the world - it shed a stark light on the discrepancies between opportunity and access to resources, devices and skills that all Londoners need, regardless of their background. London sits at the epicentre of the digital ecosystem, generating the highest rate of growth globally in terms of deep tech investment in 2021. What does this tell us? It has never been more vital to bridge this gap and provide Londoners with the tools necessary to succeed in this booming global economy and unlock their future.
A recent report commissioned by the Mayor of London unequivocally demonstrates the hugely negative impact that digital exclusion can cause across communities. This ranges from poor health, increased loneliness and isolation to diminished job prospects and lower levels of education. In the current job market, where the majority of jobs demand at least a basic level of digital skills, this inequality can become a real risk for young Londoners across the capital by decreasing their job opportunities and harming their later life prospects.
Much of this exclusion is inextricably linked to broader inequality in London, with those living in more deprived boroughs lacking the resources and access to devices necessary to succeed. For Londoners, this was brought to light by the Covid-19 pandemic which saw many families unable to provide their children with access to online education and thus hindered their learning progress. However, even outside of the context of a global pandemic this speaks to a deeper exclusion that we believe begins in childhood.
When it comes to digital skills and careers, a report undertaken by the PwC found that women make up only 23% of people working in STEM in the UK, and even more sobering is the fact that only 5% of leadership positions in the technology industry are held by women. This may begin at school, where of the survey’s respondents 62% of boys say they had an interest in this industry, while only 42% of girls are interested with many more discouraged in favour of arts and humanities subjects.
The reasoning behind these decisions abound, ranging from difficulty to lack of interest to sexism. Young Digital Leader 2019 Andrea Rodrigues says that when she took up coding opportunities, there was a stigma around females.
“When I told people I studied computer science People called me a nerd as if it was a bad thing,”
Unlock Digital wants to not only address this skills gap but empower young people to take charge of their futures and become the next generation of tech innovators in London. Christina Morillo, co-founder of Women of Colour in Tech said that “we have done a terrible job of encouraging young girls to engage in STEM at an early age.” And she’s right - only 16% of females have had a career in technology suggested to them, as opposed to 33% of males.
This isn’t however, simply a problem of sex. If women have minority representation, people of colour have almost no representation. Only 4% of the tech workforce in the UK is made up of non-white people. Tech London Advocates maintains that this problem lends itself to a vicious cycle:
“We’re never going to be able to recruit talent from diverse backgrounds if we can’t create significant cultural change within the industry.”
In a city that’s renowned for its diversity around the world, it’s crucial that systemic change be made across London and nationally to empower and engage young people regardless of their background, religion or ethnicity.
To affect this change, Tech London Advocates (1) name two imperatives. The business imperative is simple: if we have a more diverse pool of job applicants, there will be a more diverse pool of creativity which will in turn fuel growth. This won’t be possible without digital inclusion across the capital and of course the UK, which brings us to Tech London Advocates’ second imperative of a social nature: to inspire a new generation of innovators to tackle London’s digital inequality divide.
At Unlock Digital, we wholeheartedly agree that we must empower those innovators of the future in order to help them succeed. So many young Londoners are either uninterested or unaware of the countless opportunities our capital has to offer, and so risk missing out on their potential and an incredible life journey.
To support this mission of inclusion and access, we have produced an interactive Digital Skills Map that displays courses ranging in price and location across the capital, so that wherever you are and whatever your situation is, everyone has access to the skills London has to offer to build a promising future in the digital industries.