Technically, we are all just humans
Don’t you feel it’s about time we stopped going on about women wrestlers, women firefighters, and women coders? Just as many celebrities representing sexual minorities are refusing to publicly “step out of the closet” in manifestation of the equality of all sexual orientations, could we not just simply talk about wrestlers, firefighters, and coders regardless of their gender? Unfortunately, we’re not quite there yet.
While it would be great to think that gender equality is just about to become the prevailing norm everywhere, we’re frequently reminded that there still is a long way ahead before that state is reached. As a woman working in an edtech (abbreviated from educational technology) company, I represent a minority. From inside the broad-minded and diverse startup bubble this is pretty easy to forget, though. But looking at any recent statistics on women in tech jogs the memory sufficiently enough.
The good news is that the proportion of women in technological professions and graduate programmes is growing. Yet a mere 3% of female university students say a career in technology is their first choice, according to a PwC study. 5% of leadership positions in the technology sector are held by women. In addition, other reports show that female tech graduates face higher unemployment rates, more part-time contracts, and relatively frequent discrimination compared to their male counterparts.
20% of Google engineers are women – a proportion matched roughly across big tech companies. Striking, perhaps, but surprising? Hardly. I mean we all know that girls can’t do programming, right? They’re more interested in social skills and arts anyway; guys just make much better coders because their brain is more mathematical by nature.
A study by Women in Technology International reveals that 8% of girls have a mother who works in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) (and 50% a dad who does). 12% of girls took interest in a STEM field in grade school. According to a study by Google, male students are more likely to be told by a parent or teacher that they would be good at computer science (CS). If parents and teachers believe that an inherent lack of interest is the reason under-represented groups are not as prevalent in CS, they may be less likely to encourage children to learn CS.
Now let’s make one thing clear. Gender does not define personality or skills, and it definitely shouldn’t define career or interests. The average brains of males and females are anatomically different, yes, and that’s no surprise. So are average hormone levels and physical strength. And so are the stereotypes faced by different genders (which, by the way, are more in number than two). As a Nature editorial says it well, “putting less faith in aptitude differences and more belief in hard work and individual evaluation of performance seems like a more productive way forward.”
I was recently asked what can be done to get girls and women interested in tech. Well firstly, I don’t think coaxing or cajoling is necessary. Instead, we need a major improvement in our sensitivity to recognise how our societal structures, mindsets, and assumptions maintain, strengthen, and regenerate gender barriers. Do go ahead and buy your niece a Barbie doll and your nephew a toy computer for Christmas, but do be aware of how it does not change the world.
For inspiration, check out these inspiring women in tech:
Emmi Jouslehto, CEO and IT-professional with passion to Augmented Reality & Location Based Solutions
Arilyn, co-founded by Emmi, is a beautiful app for digital communication that combines Augmented Reality, Location Intelligence, and Interactive Media. The free app transforms the physical world into a virtual experience.
Linda Liukas. programmer, storyteller, illustrator, and founder of Hello Ruby
Linda is a central figure in the world of programming and and was working on edtech before it had a name. Linda is the founder of Rails Girls, a global phenomenon teaching the basics of programming for young women all over the world.
Katri Meriläinen, Head of Educational Development