New research from BT Group shows nearly half (47%) of schoolgirls interested in a tech career are driven by a desire to address online harms like cyberbullying and concerns about privacy.

The Digital Heirs research found 73% of girls have experienced hate speech online, 58% have been contacted by a stranger they don’t trust and 60% have seen content promoting self-harm.

But it seems their negative experiences are actually inspiring young people, with a quarter (26%) of girls wanting to pursue a career in tech in order to make the internet a safer place for the next generation of children.

The research also found the top issues young people would like to see change on the internet – two thirds (65%) want to see online bullying tackled, followed by 58% wanting content promoting self-harm removed. Over half (55%) said keeping people’s data safe and private should be a priority while 52% said they’d like to see a stop to online grooming or inappropriate content.

The Digital Heirs research from BT Group, which surveyed 1,000 UK children aged 11-17, also revealed 86% of young people are interested in a career in technology but one in five (21%) don’t understand enough about jobs in tech or what qualifications are needed.

It comes as BT Group delivers its Get Work Ready programme in schools across the UK to prepare students for the world of work, connecting their STEM curriculum learning with skills that are in demand by employers. The programme aims to bridge the digital gaps for young people including girls and people with disabilities.

Young entrepreneur Ahana Banerjee, 24-year-old, said her own experiences online helped inspire her to create a safe online space when she launched skincare app ‘Clear.’

The app helps users with skin issues find and connect with others with similar skin types, keep track of their skincare routines, and measure their progress with selfies.

Ahana said: “I joined Instagram at 10, just as the app began. As I got older, it went from a harmless photo sharing platform to a hub of social dynamics – a space where people could continually compare themselves to one another.

“Having suffered from cystic acne as a teenager, the worst impact this had on me was around body image. I deleted Instagram when I was sixteen and almost immediately noticed an improvement in my confidence and overall wellbeing.

“Instead of steering me away from a tech career, it inspired me to create a different kind of online platform – one that created a positive community and didn’t promote images of filtered perfect skin. I believe our generation is purpose-driven, and for me, being able to create positive solutions through tech is an amazing feeling.”

“Most jobs, whether it’s healthcare or finance, require tech skills, and as an employer we expect all hires to be digitally literate, not just our tech team. That’s why programmes like BT Group’s Get Work Ready are important for bridging the gap between school and work. Plus, you can get a good tech job without a degree, which is unheard of in other fields. I built my own path to starting a tech company by trying a physics degree, internships in finance and tech and working in startups.”

Victoria Johnson, Social Impact Director at BT Group said: “It’s incredible to hear stories of young people like Ahana who are striving to change the online world for the better. Our Digital Heirs research shows the next generation is too often exposed to online issues like cyberbullying, harassment and misinformation, brought into focus by the Online Safety Bill.

“With many looking to make a change through a career in tech, our Work Ready programme in schools across the country is empowering them with essential digital skills employers need as we tackle the UK’s digital skills gap.”

The research also found over half (59%) of young people believe more of their generation entering tech careers would make the internet more accessible and 50% see Artificial Intelligence as a key factor in improving the online space. Over half (54%) also said they were more interested in learning about technology than traditional school subjects.

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