WOMEN IN TECHNOLOGY
Why is Siri the most famous woman in tech?
By Billie Louise
Illustration by Elsa Pearson
Tech was pioneered by women. Ada Lovelace wrote the first computer algorithm in 1843 and women made up the majority of the workforce at the dawn of the computing revolution - so why is it so hard to name a present-day female in tech?
Really, the reason is unsurprising. Only 17% of the total tech workforce are female, with similar stats seen at higher education level in subjects such as computer science and programming. We are not just looking at a gender gap; we are staring into a gender abyss. The massive potential of women in tech simply isn’t being fulfilled, but how can we support and encourage girls to harness their own intrinsic tech abilities and address lack of female representation in the industry?
Firstly, let’s consider the forces at play that are denying women fair access. Tech is often criticised as adopting a ‘brogrammer’ culture and this, coupled with a lack of exposure to role models at a higher level, can make women feel like tech isn’t somewhere they belong. The bias and sexism that is ingrained in our society can lead to stereotype threat (when you worry you’ll perpetuate negative gender stereotypes if you perform badly in tech work) and cultivate implicit bias in hiring managers, as well as knocking the confidence and self-assurance in young female minds.
Many people in the industry are also carrying around an outspoken, discriminatory bias, which can be daunting to combat - James Damore was fired from Google in 2017 for stating that there was ‘a biological basis’ to the lack of female computer scientists. If those at the highest level are adding fuel to these outdated beliefs, how can we tackle this?
We’re going to have to take matters into our own hands.
For a start, we can actively support women already in tech fields who are much more likely to leave the industry than their male counterparts. There should be ‘Women in Tech’ societies set-up at University level and within tech companies, to bring like-minded women together and create a sense of belonging and sisterhood in a male-dominated environment. In addition, employers, teachers and students must be made aware of the dangers of bias and stereotype threat, so that they can have a chance at calling themselves and others out on it and work towards eradicating it from their mindsets.
But perhaps most importantly, we need to empower women to reclaim their positions as tech pioneers. Across the globe we’re seeing more and more initiatives like girlwhocode.com (US) and codefirst: girls (UK) springing up and bringing opportunities to learn about computer programming in a female-centric space. New coding programs are diversifying their reach too, providing courses to intersectional groups who suffer the worst in representation within the tech industry.
These courses not only teach valuable skills in a bias-free space, but also create female friendships within the tech industry, alongside establishing support and building confidence from the educators leading the programs. These kinds of initiatives are generally aimed at young-adult and working age women however, so what can be done to help younger girls?
Female empowerment in tech needs to begin at school.
Even at GCSE level, only a fifth of students taking computer science were female in 2017. The way that teachers introduce computer-based subjects to school children is absolutely critical, and it’s important that an inclusive approach is adopted from the very first years of schooling. After-school coding clubs, girls-only hack-a-thons and including female tech role-models on the curriculum would be a good place to start.
Tech’s gender imbalance stems from its leaky pipeline into the industry. We need to let girls know that they can aspire to be a computer programmer or software developer in the same way that they can aspire to be any other profession. Then, we need to allow them to carry this confidence and ambition throughout their professional lives through workplace mentors and support structures within their tech communities.
The abyss can be closed, the future of tech IS female, and Ada would be proud of us.
Coding courses in the UK if you’re interested:
Code First: Girls - If you are 18-23 and either still studying or within 2 years of graduating.
Code First: Professionals - They offer a professional’s course for any one out of the age bracket for the above course.
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