Recently Belatrix held a “Women In Technology” week, where we highlighted the impressive work of many of Belatrix’s female contributors. One of the reasons behind this initiative, was because research shows that there remain too many stereotypes about what it is like for women working in the technology industry.
However, not long ago, I was speaking with Belatrix´s President and Co-founder, Alex Robbio, who attended his sons’ “Make A Difference Fair”, which is in essence a science fair, but one which uses design thinking to solve everyday issues and make a difference in everyone’s life. He mentioned that he was “incredibly surprised that the girls’ teams had a higher tendency to use technology like microcontrollers and minicomputers (Micro.bit, Arduino, Raspberry Pi), and wireless communications than the boys’”. When he spoke with them it was very interesting to “see how well they used these new technologies to solve challenges.”
This got me thinking about whether we have misconceptions about the role of gender. Are girls now increasingly tackling tech projects? But if so, why is the number of female STEM graduates so low? Research from AAUW points out that the barriers are environmental and social, “including stereotypes, gender bias, and the climate of science and engineering departments in colleges and universities — that continue to block women’s progress in STEM.” Women in the United States hold less than 25% of STEM jobs. Furthermore the women that do get involved in tech-intensive industries tend to end up leaving. “Even famously sexist Wall Street employs a higher percentage than tech”, says Emily Chang on Bloomberg Businessweek who’s also the author of ‘Brotopia’. These studies show that there are still many barriers in the industry that are making it more difficult than it needs to be, for women to get involved in tech.
We’re in 2018, and still there are major obstacles blocking women’s ability to work in the tech industry, which is unacceptable. It is our responsibility as a society to make sure these barriers come crashing down.
The tech industry is unfortunately still considered by many to be a “man’s world, which is an irony considering that from the 1940’s up until the the early 1980s, women were very much involved with tech. 30% to 50% of programmers were women in the 1950s. In an article written in 1967 by Cosmopolitan Magazine, it claimed that “women are ‘naturals’ at computer programming”. The magazine went on to encourage women to seek well paid jobs in the tech field. However over time, this lead to men who were seeking these highly paid jobs to gradually push women out of the industry, and create artificial barriers to women’s participation. This was not just morally wrong, but also made no business sense. Research has shown that startups with women leaders are twice as likely to be successful. Fortune 500 companies that had at least three women directors saw an average return on equity increase by at least 53%, return on sales increase by at least 42% and return on investment capital increase by at least 66%.
Despite the problems today, there are now more and more organizations and people helping to combat this issue. A group of developers in the US have used the Raspberry Pi 3 computer as the basis of a self-contained computer engineering kit, titled the Boolean Box, which teaches coding to 8 year-olds and up. Now teachers have formed a startup, Boolean Girl, following their experiences of teaching girls to code using Raspberry Pi computers, and it has become a focal point to inspire more girls to code. Like Women In Technology an organization that aims to promote women in technology- from the classroom to the boardroom, or Kode with Klossy whose mission is to empower girls to learn how to code and become leaders in the tech world.
To conclude, by looking back at history, we can see that the lack of women in technology today has nothing to do with talent or ability, but everything to do with stereotypes, gender bias, and specific steps taken by companies. Fortunately today we’re changing this. As Alex Robbio pointed out at the science fair, young girls are naturals at working with the latest technologies. It’s our responsibility to ensure doors remain open for them to work in the tech industry as they grow older.