Pushing for diversity in the technology field has been an ongoing journey involving efforts by relentless individuals and organizations. While women in tech remain underrepresented, progress is still being made through great initiatives. But you might ask yourself, why is it crucial to address the gender diversity gap in tech?
In today’s world, technology is and has been shaping our lives in ways we didn't think possible. Yet, with such a prominent lack of representation, the field remains a male-dominated one.
Even though the percentage of women in tech is slowly changing from one year to another, the Top Companies for Women Technologists report shows that it might take us up to twelve years to close the tech gender gap.
Increasing women's involvement in technology is crucial. Not only because of the amazing career options it may provide but also for the ability of the tech industry as a whole to innovate and develop solutions inclusive of all genders. We need to make sure that the people behind the screens have a wide range of backgrounds, experiences, and ideas. Only then can technology be a force for good.
So, the question we need to ask is how did women in tech become so underrepresented?
Modern computing, as we know it today, became more visible in the 1940s. During World War II, women were hired to do most of the computing jobs. Their job consisted of solving long lists of equations. By 1943, nearly all computer workers were women, as the field required a great eye for detail and patience. During that time, Grace Hopper became one of the most inspirational women in tech, co-developing the first high-level programming language in tech history - COBOL.
Women were known for developing software, whereas men were in charge of the hardware. Programming began to be perceived as an alternative career for women during the 50s and 60s. Women in tech statistics show that in 1984, the number of women earning a bachelor degree in computer science rose to 37%, compared to the 18% now.
So, when did the shift happen? Following the rise of computer engineering, the 90s marked a change in the field which led to a shift in men’s focus—from hardware to software development. Companies marketed computers and consoles as toys mainly for boys. Since toys are gendered in society, this also changed girls’ perception of computer programming.
At the same time, pop culture influenced the appearance of the nerdy tech man stereotype in movies and television, which led to a more diminished desire for girls and women to pursue the tech field.
The lack of inspirational women in tech representation in the media prevents little girls from envisioning a career in the field. Even at a young age, kids are exposed to the media, whether it be through cartoons, books, or movies. When little girls are exposed to stories about princesses, fairies, and mermaids - but no engineers, programmers, or architects - they start to form ideas about what they can (and can’t) become. If they can’t see someone like them in a certain position, they might not even consider it as a possibility.
Are Jei conducted an experiment in 2021 asking girls from 12 to 15 years old “what they want to become when they grow up”. None of them expressed an interest in becoming a computer engineer or a similar position. Moreover, none felt strongly about any character of women coders on TV or social media.
We know that there are so many inspiring women in tech, but their absence from social media and their lack of coverage in big media channels has a huge influence on the tech gender gap. Statistics show that although 74% of girls express a desire for a career in the field, only a fourth of them would pursue it, one of the main reasons being the lack of inspiring female role models.
Currently, the percentage of women in tech represents a third of the workforce in the industry. So, what would more diversity mean for the field?
While companies strive to build great inclusive technology solutions, unfortunately, these solutions can still be biased. Being predominantly coded by men makes it difficult to spot their own bias. Diversity on the other hand, brings more creativity and a wider range of viewpoints to the table. These factors are essential in creating tech products and software that serve a wide variety of users.
Did you know that the first facial recognition technology was tested solely on white men? Even if this is not an issue directly influencing women in tech, building software that is biased from the beginning is not ideal and does not bring a holistic and inclusive solution to the market. Having a facial recognition algorithm work seamlessly to unlock your phone regardless of your ethnicity or gender is an important feature but when facial recognition technology is used for surveillance by the police to identify and arrest suspects, an unbiased algorithm becomes a human right.
That is why diversity is mandatory in technology because it allows engineers to build better and safer products that consider everyone, not just one segment of society. Interacting with a diverse team, by definition, requires individuals to better prepare and anticipate other points of view, as men and women bring various perspectives to the table.
Women in leadership roles often have to face the challenge of being the only woman in the room and it is no different in the technology field. Being outnumbered 5 to 1, women in tech are often expected to prove themselves more than men as leaders in the field. Furthermore, due to the gender gap at work, women often feel isolated or excluded from important conversations.
So, we ask ourselves: what can be done to reduce the gap?Inspirational women in tech have started initiatives, like Girls Who Code and Code Your Dreams. Their efforts are focussed on promoting the learning of technology starting from an early age by teaching little girls about programming, enabling them to perceive it as a great career option in the future.
A movement on social media #ilooklikeanengineer shows girls and women that you don’t have to look a certain way or fit a specific mold to be an engineer. Woman Who Code also showcases women in leadership roles, empowering anyone who wants to pursue a career in the field. Breakthrough Tech is also a wonderful initiative focussed on delivering innovative programs that break down barriers so women can break through in tech education and tech careers.
Are Jei,a tech-inspired jewelry business was built to promote the learning of technology through jewelry. Inspired by her own story as a technology leader and the challenges she had to overcome throughout her career, the founder aims to offer an entry point for women to learn about and celebrate technology through jewelry. Her goal is for customers to feel a sense of pride about the field when wearing binary encoded bracelets. She considers it to be a drop in the ocean, but, as we all know if each of us offers a drop, then we can change the narrative.
If you are looking for elegant STEM/Tech inspired gifts, then look no further than Are Jei's bracelets!
All these small steps that empowered women and men allies are making will lead to an industry that will perceive women as equal experts in the field. Make sure you check out these organizations and get involved today!