The big question: where are all the women in tech and STEM?

Computing and Technology is woman’s work! Well, this was the case in 50s-60s Britain. Woman dominated the computing sector, an extraordinary phenomenon when exploring the statistics of women working in tech and STEM today.[1] Figures show that there are a mere 13% of women working in STEM [2] and 17% of women working in Technology.[3]

Computing and technology should not be dominated by one gender, not just in terms of social politics, but an undiversified workforce stagnates the industry as well as costs the economy. Statistics show that increasing women in STEM alone could increase the UK’s labour value by at least £2bn.[4]

Marie Hicks, a historian of technology, notable for her work on the history of women in computing, describes how in the late 1960s the roles of women in computing changed. Women began to be replaced by male management-level technocrats and those men were trained by the women in which they were to replace. This reinforces that women did not lack the technical skills, however, the development of the economic value of computing and the gender inequality of the social constraints of the time could be the reason for this shift. Removing women from this sector has reverberated into many critical issues that are still affecting us today.

Removing women from this sector has reverberated into many critical issues that are still affecting us today.

The world’s first computer programmer was Ada Lovelace, she wrote the first machine algorithm for an early analytical engine devised by British inventor Charles Babbage in the 1800s[5]

The Technology skills Shortage

The technology skills shortage is not a new epidemic, especially in the UK, after most women had been ejected from the computing and technology sector, there was a critical skills shortage in the 60s-70s.  So much so, the British government in conjunction with the Ministry of Technology passed the Industrial Expansion Act 1968. This was an attempt to merge into one big technology company (ICL)[6] to concentrate and centralise into one large computer mainframe as there were not enough skilled technical personnel. In short, the plan failed, ICL collapsed, and this effectively destroyed the British computing industry.

As technology continues to rapidly advance and develop, the skills gap has only widened.  Cybersecurity Ventures estimates there will be 3.5 million unfilled cybersecurity jobs by 2021.[7] Re-engineering the gender imbalance in STEM will not completely close the technology skills gap but it will considerably narrow the skills shortage. Women are an untapped resource of tech, but more importantly, tech without female influence has its own multitude of dilemmas.

Not all woman where pushed out of tech in this period, Dame Stephanie Shirley began her own freelance software company in 1962. She created a feminist business model where women could program and work from home and around childcare.[8]

What are the consequences of a male-led technology industry?

The power of technology is infinite and already predominant in how we communicate, educate, travel, work and much more. When technology is being controlled and created by a single demographic of society (83% of tech executives are also white[9]) this narrows the innovation of technology as well as our ability to secure it.

An example of this is the development of Artificial Intelligence (AI). Artificial Intelligence is a technology that learns and develops through the data and knowledge that is fed to it (like a baby). If AI is developed only by white males, the data and knowledge it learns is not a reflection of all the people that will use it, it will inevitably be limited.  Kriti Sharma, Director, Bots and AI, describes how this was the case in the early development or voice recognition technology, she said:

“Early voice recognition software didn’t always recognise female voices, because none of the developers had been female and no-one thought to test out the technology on women.”[10]

The technology skills gap has also created a cybersecurity crisis, the UK’s Critical National Infrastructure (CNI) is in jeopardy. Cybersecurity skills in the technology sector are essential for the workings and succession of the economy and society, which includes our health services, energy supply and more.

As Pricilla Moriuchi, Director of Strategic Threat Development, at Recorded Future, said “We need people with disparate backgrounds because the people we are pursuing, (threat actors, hackers, ‘bad guys’) also have a wide variety of backgrounds and experiences […] The wider variety of people and experience we have defending our networks, the better our chances of success.”[11]

“Early voice recognition software didn’t always recognise female voices, because none of the developers had been female and no-one thought to test out the technology on women.”

– Kriti Sharma, Director, Bots and AI

Computer programmer Ann Moffatt wrote the code for the black box flight recorder for the Concorde on her kitchen table in 1968[12]

Image source: The Guardian

Why are women absent in STEM and Tech?

According to PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) only 3% of females say a career in technology is their first choice.[13] There are many contributing factors to the absence of women in STEM and the tech workforce. However, the main issue seems to be the under-representation of women in the industry. The press, media, films, publications all portray technology professionals as male. Stereotyping and gender bias in STEM is everywhere, and in many cases totally incorrect. MI6 chief Sir Alex Younger touched on this speaking at the Women in IT Awards he said in regard to MI6 “the real-life Q is a woman, despite the James Bond character always having been played by men.”[14]

There is not enough information, support, or female role models represented in STEM or tech which reinforces the perception that a career in technology is not obtainable for women. Statistics show that 78% of students can’t name a famous female working in technology.[15]

STEM and tech are plagued with implicit biases and social constraints and it begins in education. There are only 64% of females compared to 83% of males who choose a STEM subject at school, which drops to 30% at university for women and 52% of men.[16]

The relationship between technology and society needs to be reconfigured and this must be done through greater gender diversity.

Katherine Johnson is a mathematician whose ground-breaking scientific achievements include calculating the orbital mechanics for NASA’s first successful crewed mission to the moon in U.S. history. She is a co-author of 26 scientific papers, worked to transition NASA onto computers and much more. She challenged many racial and gender discriminations of the time.[17]

Image source: Wikipedia

How can businesses promote women in STEM?

Although many issues surrounding the absents of women in STEM develops in education. There are many positive steps that businesses can take to promote roles for women in STEM and diversify their workforce.

Businesses should be providing women and men with information surrounding female roles in STEM as well as guidance on career prospects and development within the company. This helps to reinforce the presence of women in these roles as well as helps to destabilise and eliminate recruitment biases.

Promoting and initiating STEM skills and development to your employees is also very important. Providing information on potential employee pathways and demystifying the tech industry is essential in closing the skills gap as well as promoting women in tech. Alternative learning methods to classroom training such as eLearning for businesses is also a great way to give employees flexibility and inclusivity in their skills development.

Combating the gender imbalance in the Tech and STEM workforce will successfully innovate the technology industry, narrow the skills shortage, benefit the economy, as well as help secure and defend our sensitive data. Let’s get women back into tech.

Is your team performing? Do you need help to identify the skills gaps of your team or employees? Our mission at SkillsFox is to counteract the skills gap tide taking over UK businesses. We’re a business solutions specialist focusing on Cybersecurity, Cloud, IT, Project Management, Business Skills, Leadership Skills and Compliance. Find out more.

Combating the gender imbalance in the Tech and STEM workforce will successfully innovate the technology industry, narrow the skills shortage, benefit the economy, as well as help secure and defend our sensitive data.



2019-06-05T10:37:08+01:00By |Categories: Women in Tech|Tags: , , , , |

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