It’s 2017, yet there’s still a shortage of women in tech

April 11, 2017
by John Websell

Technology is all-pervasive in western society; even if the over 30’s aren’t as inseparable from their smartphones as Millennials and Generation Z, the vast majority of the population access the internet on a daily basis and relax with one gadget or another. Yet, despite this ubiquity, there’s a lack of women in tech and thus it’s predominantly men who’re designing and producing the technological innovations we take for granted.

Recent statistics compiled by Google, for instance, reveal that only 17% of the conglomerate’s technical workforce is female – figures that are, unfortunately, representative of a planet-wide trend. Indeed, although women comprise 57% of US college students, a staggering 82% of STEM graduates are male.

Some might not think this is much of an issue: they couldn’t be more wrong. Aside from the multitudinous issues caused by this lack of diversity (issues we’ll touch on in the second half of this article), there is at present a profound skills gap in various technological industries. Thus it’s never been more important for women to get involved in technology; the problem is, it isn’t easy for female programmers, computer scientists and engineers to get their foot in the door in the first place. Though it’s not impossible, either.

Getting your foot in the door

The best way to succeed in any industry (for both men and women) is to know your subject inside and out; something that’s of particular significance in technology where things change with alarming rapidity. There are plenty of online resources and courses that will enable you to stay abreast of emerging trends and new developments, simultaneously improving your general understanding of your discipline and better preparing you for any future changes. It’s also worthwhile undertaking a personal project in your free time, since this is a great way to hone your skills and, later, to showcase your talent during interviews.

However, merit alone isn’t enough; you have to be able to advertise your abilities. Whereas women tend to be more gracious and magnanimous, often giving credit to male colleagues at the end of a team project – regardless of whether it’s deserved or not – studies have shown that males are comfortable bragging (for want of a better word) in a professional context, happily making management aware of their contributions when they’ve performed well. Recognising the work of others is commendable in day-to-day life, as is an altruistic disposition, but evidence suggests your efforts will go unnoticed if you don’t make it clear to your manager you deserve credit, potentially hindering your chances of promotion. And besides, uncomfortable as it may be for some, there’s nothing wrong with taking credit for a job well done.

Finding an experienced mentor who can help you understand the challenges of succeeding in a technological profession is similarly important. Approaching a stranger and asking for help might feel a little strange, however, there are plenty of networking events that allows you to pick the brains of experienced individuals in a semi-formal setting, not to mention social media sites such as LinkedIn which make it far easier than ever before to approach professionals within your field and expand your network. Furthermore, given the current dearth of women in tech, those that have succeeded are usually only too willing to offer their assistance to young girls thinking of studying a STEM subject at degree level and graduates just starting out on their careers; so long as you show a genuine interest in their knowledge and experience.

At the risk of sounding trite, don’t be afraid to be yourself. Being one of the few females in your company doesn’t mean you have to act like your male colleagues in order to fit in or impress your new boss. In fact, most employer’s value authenticity and prefer to have a diverse team of individuals, each of whom possessing a unique perspective on the daily issues facing the company. The most successful enterprises are typically the diverse ones.

Why we need more women in tech

The simple answer to this question is that there’s a considerable digital skills gap at present, and we urgently need people to fill it. A Code.org study, for instance, discovered that, at the current rate of progress, there’ll be 1 million more computer programming jobs than graduates in the US by 2020; the frustrating thing is that if more women were encouraged to enter the sector and didn’t have to overcome the additional challenges men don’t (stereotypes, discrimination) we could easily meet this demand.

There are more far-reaching concerns, of course. To expand on an earlier point, broadly speaking, women provide a slightly different perspective when compared with their male counterparts, opening the door to a whole host of advantages. As discussed in a Forbes article published in 2012, women are more design-focused and empathetic than men, so a balanced workforce is more creative and better able to consider things from multiple viewpoints before making any business-wide decisions. This is especially beneficial as pertains to gadgets that deal with female-specific problems. If you’re designing an app that monitors the symptoms of menopause, for example, it makes sense for female programmers to have the biggest say in the form the application takes, as they’ll likely have a deeper understanding of the needs of their customers.

Meanwhile, approximately 2.5 million people take advantage of web-based technologies to create their own jobs each year (generating a further 1 million roles on top of that figure), giving rise to countless exciting innovations in recent times. Yet think how many transformative inventions the world has missed out on solely because women have been discouraged directly and indirectly from breaking into tech?

From the point of view of the individual, with the overwhelming majority of jobs now requiring a certain level of technological know-how, digital literacy is almost a fundamental trait. Now, it goes without saying neither an intimate knowledge of coding nor the ability to create your own PC from scratch is going to become necessities in the coming years, but nonetheless, a higher quantity of jobs will be available to you if you’re at least moderately familiar with computers. Moreover, in an internet-dependent society like ours, technological knowledge (particularly as regards cyber security and online etiquette) is invaluable.

Smoothing the way

While the tips contained in this article were designed to help current and future generations of female technologists, ultimately, the onus is on society as a whole if the current imbalance is to be rectified.

Fortunately, as ABRS and TEC Partners have witnessed first-hand, there is evidence of change right now. Business leaders have finally recognised the substantial benefits afforded by a diverse workforce: Google’s Made with Code and Microsoft’s International Women’s Hackathon are just 2 examples of programmes that aim to encourage young ladies to consider a career in tech, while Girls Who Code provides similar support for young women across the globe.

Hopefully, the future is bright for women in tech.

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