The fact that it’s deemed necessary to mention ‘women in technology’ demonstrates the social constructs for gender roles which have yet to be broken down.
As an industry sector, technology is growing exponentially, yet it’s clear that men still dominate senior positions, out-earning women even in the same roles. What’s more, of the total technology workforce in the UK, only 17%—yes, a paltry seventeen percent—are female.
Here are some other statistics to cause dismay:
- Only 7% of students taking computer science A-level courses are female
- 1 in 10 UK tech teams have no female employees at all
- Just 22% of game developers are women, yet women make up 50% of game-players
Yes, look at Facebook and Twitter as employers – only 15% of Facebook’s tech employees and 17% of Twitter’s are female, but more than half of the users of both sites are women. It’s surely a given that it’s important for a company’s workforce to reflect its customer base, and both Facebook and Twitter have, it seems, made considerable efforts to find and recruit more female tech talent. Their failure must be a source of frustration.
Here’s another stat:
- Only 22% of students can name a famous female working in technology, whereas 67% can name a famous man
A company called Tech Republic put out a list of ‘Tech Icons: Ten biographies worth reading.’ (The underlining is ours.) Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Paul Allen, Steve Wozniak, Linus Torvalds, Alan Turing, Jony Ive, Douglas Edwards, Biz Stone and…oh, a woman…Carly Fiorina, who, in case you hadn’t heard of her, was responsible for the reinvention of Hewlett Packard.
A lack of female role models only serves to reinforce the perception that technology is a male domain—actually, not so much of a perception but a fact. And, a self-perpetuating fact, because over a quarter of female students say they’re put off a career in technology because it’s too male dominated and they fear they’ll hit that infamous glass ceiling.
Business Insider UK says, ‘It’s still a male dominated arena [however] the UK technology industry has plenty of women in leading roles.” It cites Janine Gibson of BuzzFeed, Claire Valoti of Snapchat and Net-a-Porter founder Natalie Massenet as 3 of 26 ‘coolest women in tech’. So there are female icons if we choose to seek them out.
Even if women in technology don’t experience outright discrimination, it seems they live in a culture with an undercurrent of condescension Don’t forget that it’s this sector which sees fit to have voice-control systems like Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri as female. What a great role model that is (not!) being able to order women to do your bidding in a commanding tone of voice …
There’s no denying that there is a gender bias in technology. There’s no denying that plenty of people think that something should be done about it. After last year’s London Technology Week, the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan said:
[this] week has shown how the capital is the most important tech hub in Europe with its vibrant mix of investors, talent and creativity. Although the sector is flourishing, it is vital that we actively encourage more girls to work in digital and tech to reverse the under-representation of women in this industry.
How can this be achieved, though? There’s no silver bullet, but the first step for individuals is to recognise that gender bias exists. Very few people are immune, even the most apparently transformed New Age men. Diversity must be placed at the heart of recruitment and retention—genuinely, practically, not just as worthy words written in a mission statement—in acknowledgement of the fact that a wide-ranging talent base is commercially self-sustaining and a real corporate asset.
It’s vital to create cultures that are inclusive and support everyone’s career advancement, regardless of gender, although co-founder of amicableapps, Pip Wilson, feels that the only thing that will truly level the playing field is an equal split of childcare between men and women—which, of course, is not a difficulty specific to the technology sector.
Thankfully, there is a lot of movement around the issue of gender bias, with a number of industry organisations trying to change the perception of tech amongst women and to encourage and build the skills needed to grow a successful career in technology:
Womenintech.co.uk is a site dedicated to women already in or looking to join the tech sector.
Techuk.org.uk focus on the issues and ongoing areas of interest in the tech industry including women in tech.
Techlondonadvocates.org.uk has created WOMENINTECH, a 700-strong working group within Tech London Advocates dedicated to increasing gender balance and equality in tech.
Most important of all is to get the message across to girls and women that technology is a creative force for good in society and everyone has a valuable contribution to make. Every one of us owes it to the next generation of talent to celebrate technology for everything it offers as a career choice no matter who you are. If you’re passionate about technology, then…grasp every opportunity with both hands.