Addressing the Gender Gap in Technology
The Statistics on Women in Tech
Where does the gender gap in technology come from? Technology is a male-dominated industry, and the statistics surrounding women in tech reveal a lot. A report by PWC suggests that the gender gap in technology ‘starts at school and carries on through every stage of girls’ and women’s lives.’ The divide is clear, with only 27% of female surveyed students saying they would consider a career in technology. This is compared to 61% of males, with only 3% of females saying it is their first choice.
Where Does the Gender Gap in Technology Stem From?
So why are females generally not considering a career in tech? The PWC survey found that over a quarter of female students say they’ve been put off a career in technology, as it’s too male-dominated. The report by PWC got me thinking about why I never considered a tech career as an option. The reason is that it really was never presented to me as one.
The stereotype of ‘boys being better at Science and Maths’ is ingrained in many of us from a young age. Boys were being encouraged to do well in Maths and Science. While girls are encouraged to do well in subjects such as English and Art. This isn’t to say the school system is entirely at fault, but rather the societal stereotypes around what is considered a female and male job. The idea that a career in STEM wasn’t for me was something that I accepted early on. This contributed to my lack of interest in those subjects at school. If a STEM career was for boys then why would I bother to learn about it?
Therefore, the combination of believing a STEM career isn’t an option, and consequently a lack of interest to learn about it, means that by the time it is time to think about their career, a career in tech is no longer possible as they now don’t have the knowledge or interest to study it.
The Media Stereotypes
The lack of women going into tech careers is not just a problem that stems from school, but also pop culture. Social Talent comment on how media stereotypes play a huge part in discouraging young female students from pursuing a STEM-related subject. For instance, the female characters in The Big Bang Theory, where female scientists are presented as weird outcasts, while the arty girl was seen as the only normal female character. It may seem unlikely that pop culture representations could really discourage females from entering STEM careers. However, we must not forget how influential the media is at a young age. It is suggested that the media acts as a ‘hypodermic needle’ where audiences are generally passive recipients of whatever message is injected by the media.
However, if you successfully break through these cultural norms and choose to pursue STEM subjects at University, there are certainly still hurdles. In her article for Fortune, Pooja Sankar talks about the intense isolation she experienced throughout her college years: “I spent most of my evenings alone in the computer lab, struggling in isolation to complete my coursework and watching with envy as my male classmates collaborated amongst themselves to collectively master the complicated course material.”
So, if you make it through your degree, and are now entering the workforce, the challenges don’t stop there. According to June Sugiyama, Director of the Vodafone Americas Foundation, while “most women don’t experience obvious forms of discrimination or sexism” in the workforce, “they face an undercurrent of condescension that leads to a feeling of isolation.” According to the Harvard Business Review this causes 52% of women to eventually leave STEM careers.
Code First Girls’ Anna Brailsford discusses this and explains how the industry needs to step up. In the tech industry, women continue to face an uphill battle; from accessing the training required to develop in their career, to establishing oneself in a male-working environment, to managing workloads around care commitments,” said Brailsford.
So what can be done about this? Brailsford commented that “Business leaders must take action and create an inclusive and progressive work environment in which upskilling and mentorship is accessible through partnerships, enabling women to take the plunge and develop themselves.
What Does the Future Hold for Women in Tech?
There is enough research on the subject to suggest that the gender gap in tech is a result of not enough women wanting to pursue the career. Ultimately, this may be down to unresolved stereotypes in schools, not enough education around female role models and a lack of encouragement for young girls to pursue STEM.
However, I believe that it is not all doom and gloom. As a society, we are becoming much more accepting, tolerant and encouraging of women in STEM. There has been an ‘increase in recent years of women entering high levels in technology roles’, and much more encouragement for women to enter STEM careers by universities and schools. Society is now much more progressive and savvy in terms of shutting down stereotypes and influence from the media, so now is the time to shine a light on female role models in tech.
Celebrating Female Role Models
Through our TekCurious Founder Series, we have heard the stories of some inspiring women in tech, who have positive things to say about their experience in the tech industry. These are the role models we must highlight and celebrate, to show young females that a tech career is an option for them.
While many women may have missed out on pursuing a tech career, I believe and hope we will see a much more balanced technology workforce in the future.
Written by Emilia Rocky