Women in technology. Where are all the Girls?
Believe it or not only 7% of tech positions in Europe are filled by women. And while more women are working today less are working in technology. And it’s not all about technical skills, the general make up of staff across all roles show an overwhelming male majority.
So, where are all the girls?
The biggest challenge here is the falling trend of females taking up science, maths and computing courses. Despite doing better than their male counterparts in the STEM subjects in early education less females opt for technical courses at university. If they do take the course they are outnumbered leading to intimidation and drop outs. This leads to a gender biased talent pool to recruit from and so the cycle persists.
Does this hark back to the pinkification of girls in early age? Toys, clothes and job possibilities are still marketed towards either gender, despite recent developments in breaking this historic trend. We need to stop this cycle once and for all.
What is the answer?
Starting early is the key so the focus should be on our education system. There is much talk about STEM but I will add to this by suggesting that we should be looking at adding ‘A’ (arts) – STEAM which produces more meaningful interdisciplinary experiences, the best way to nurture the next generation of leaders in creativity and innovation that is inclusive to women.
Ultimately, STEAM is people-centric, not subject-centric; it puts student personality and individuality at the forefront not necessarily their gender. With STEAM, the pressure is off to become a scientist or engineer, labels which can be off putting to some girls —you can be a designer, digital artist, coder, art director, and scientist and engineer all at the same time. STEAM says we can be better engineers by learning how to think artistically, and we can re-engage artists with science by letting them see how STEM can work in the arts. It’s infinitely more exciting, especially in an increasingly interdisciplinary and digital world. In STEAM, creativity is the central tenet. It not only revives and modernizes STEM, it actually addresses, through real-world projects, why the STEM subjects should matter to everyone including girls.
Of course, by introducing innovative technology into classrooms that enables students to engage in a creative, technical and personalized classroom environment will help enormously. I believe that by breaking down our subject-based silos through technology, we can foster a greater culture of creativity, independent thinking and innovation which is not gender centric.
In addition, we need to be asking the right questions. I remember Conor giving a talk to a group of students and posing the question— “how many of you would like to become an engineer?” A trickle of hands went up but it made me wonder—what would have happened if he had asked, “How many of you would like to invent something that could change the world?” I reckon more hands would have shot up including girls. So, asking the right questions is very important.
I think there will be a percentage of girls that will just be interested in STEM subjects and won’t need encouragement but there are others on the fringe that could be persuaded.
As outlined above, adding ‘Art’ to STEM could help to bring more girls (and boys) into careers in innovation and technology. It will stop pigeon holing and will promote a more open approach to education.
This does not necessarily mean the pinkification process – it’s more about broadening the options to make it more inclusive full stop. In a recent focus group study, which we conducted, it was suggested that the addition of colour capability in 3D printing would potentially attract girls – this is not necessarily gender stereotyping, it is about pushing the boundaries in order to increase appeal to girls.
Mcor ARKe provides full colour printing capability broadening 3D printing appeal
CoderDojo, Girls in Tech, I wish, Girls who Code and WISE are just some organisations that are promoting girls in technology roles – this will certainly help with encouraging girls in tech careers but it may be a few years before we see the fruits of this.
It is clear that we need to continue to think outside of the box here to find a way to get girls more interested in STEM.
For girls considering the pursuit of studying STEM here is my advice –
Don’t be afraid to be different – From an early age the gender stereotype of boys being better at science, maths can discourage girls from studying STEM subjects. I would like to tell girls that they are just as good at these subjects as boys. Don’t be afraid to be different even if your friends are choosing other subjects.
Your country needs you – I would tell them to that the tech sector needs more women studying, working and sticking with tech skills to ensure that there’s enough talent for the future. Your country needs you!
You will have the power to change the world – I would tell them that a career based on a STEM qualification will empower you to change the world. These subjects are the stepping stones to innovation, invention and creating tomorrows world.
Don’t worry about what you don’t know – I would tell them not to worry about what they don’t know as this could lead you to that which differentiates you. The inquisitive mind finds problems and solves them. Fail faster and reach a solution!
Don’t be afraid of hard work – Thomas Edison said that, “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” Girls should note that studying STEM is not easy but it can lead to great things.
Don’t view other girls as your competition – I would tell them that they are not in competition with other girls. You are competing with everyone. Too many girls can get caught up with their female peers and not their class as a whole. This is too narrow a perspective – girls you need to think big!
We need more girls to provide diversity
There are countless reports that stipulate that gender diversity can only benefit a company. For example, gender diverse R & D teams lead to greater creativity and better decisions. And businesses with a woman on the executive team are more likely to have higher valuations at both first and last funding. Other statistics would suggest that the number of Fortune 500 companies with the highest representation female board directors outperform those with the lowest representation on the board.
This also goes beyond gender, it’s about a diversity of skills, management styles and viewpoints that champions a business to the next level.
In my own experience, it was the blend of engineering, entrepreneurship and marketing that helped Mcor get off the ground – it would not have worked if any of the ingredients were missing. So any company adverse to adding diversity to their organisation are not being the ‘best’ that they can be for sure and should re-think the make-up of their company.
So it is our duty to encourage the next generation of girls to embrace technology and their gender within this tech world. We are ‘girls’ but we have ‘girl power’!