Female Excellence in Tech, and how to Encourage it
On hearing that I’d share my first day at Substrakt with two other interns, I immediately assumed that they’d both be men.
I’d spent a year studying computer science, during which i’d gotten used to predominately male lecturers, computer labs, students… I’d interned at a tech consultancy the previous summer, during which my fellow two interns had been men. Heck, if I google-imaged “programer” the majority of images I was bombarded with were (mostly white) men.
So I was delighted to be initiated with two other women on my first day.
It can be hard to pin-down why exactly it is that women continue to be a minority in technology. Figures presented by womenintech.co.uk show that only 17% of people working in the tech industry are female (significantly lower than other sectors.) On top of this, research shows that female representation in technology has remained stagnant over the past 10 years. In UK universities from 2016-2017 only 15% of Computer Science graduates were female. Unlike a certain ex-Google engineer, I refuse to believe that these disparities are a result of biological difference. Women were among some of the first programmers (including Ada Lovelace pictured at the top of this article) and there are a multitude of highly talented women working in the industry today.
However, the public perception of the technology sector has evolved into an increasingly masculine image since the first programmers.
Granted, legislation has made the workplace an increasingly easier place to be a woman as a whole. Policies such as shared parental leave have helped decrease the number of women who leave the workplace or stagnate their careers to have children (although there are still gaps between the entitlement of mothers and fathers.) Furthermore, increased social awareness has helped to make technology companies a more welcome place to be a women. “Feminism” is becoming less of a dirty word, and companies are taking initiatives to increase their female intake and boost the careers of their current women.
However, there still seems to be deeply ingrained issues that keep us from reaching a gender-balanced workforce in technology. PwC have noticed this issue and funded extensive research surveying 2,000 students to try and find out what factors are keeping women out of tech. There were three core issues that arose from this research;
Firstly, a lack of encouragement to embrace technology-related careers. I still remember my A-level Economics teacher telling us that we were going to study Leisure instead of Travel in micro-economics because we were girls. The economics of leisure was more ‘wordy’ and ‘subjective’, and not as ‘mathsy’ and ‘objective’ (qualities apparently best left to the boys.) The gendering of particular subjects to young people, notably young people who often have to decide whether they will take on or drop ICT GCSE as young as 13, does nothing to help women see themselves as potential employees in the tech industry. Not to mention that the media-image presented of someone in tech is overwhelmingly male (think of the Big Bang Theory, the IT Crowd.)
Secondly, a lack of female role models in the tech sector. Most people would not struggle naming a prevalent man in technology (Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg…) But only 78% of the women surveyed by PwC were able to name a famous woman working in tech. There’s a lack of women existing at the top of the tech industry, let alone visibly existing in the public conscience. This only adds to women being unable to visualise themselves as someone working in technology.
Finally, a lack of understanding about the variety of roles on offer. Immediately when most people imagine a job in technology they immediately think of a coder. This is hugely reductive of the variety of roles available in technology and the complexity of the companies that work in the sector. Increasing awareness of the variety of these roles can often be a good way to include women in the sector who may, for whatever reason, have dropped STEM subjects from a young age.
I also believe that we all have small steps we can take as individuals to make careers in technology more accessible for women.
Small things like being careful not to assume without reason that the men in our companies are the more “technically inclined” emlpoyees. One of the women I talked to at Substrakt told me about her experience with her previous employer where she’d receive calls from IT companies and web agencies and be asked to be “put through to one of your technical guys.”
We also need to be self-reflective of how sometimes our rational beliefs can fail to be reflected in our attitudes. Modern sociology is increasingly showing that our unconscious minds can hold a lot of bias against women due to the amount of social conditioning we go through during our lives. Everyone is capable of misogyny, regardless of their gender or whether they identify as a feminist. Having an “only the bad guys are misogynists, but I’m not because I’m a feminist” attitude can be unproductive and stop us from picking out the small ways we can be unintentional-misogynists. Being self-reflective of this can help us work on the subtle sexism that all of us (men and women) unintentionally hold.
In spite of the barriers put up by society, I am very proud to call myself a woman in tech. I love how the industry is continuously evolving, and particularly love being part of a company that works with the arts. I’ve also felt very welcome as a woman so far at Substrakt, which is part of the reason that I felt like I could write this article. Here’s to many more women displaying excellence with technology in the future!
If you fancy testing out your own unconscious biases check out this website, select “Project Implicit, Social Attitudes” and then the “Gender – Science” or “Gender – Career” category through this link. I’ll warn you, the results can be depressing.