It’s International Women’s Day today so we thought we’d address the well-known issue of women in technology; or more accurately, the lack of women in technology.
In the UK 84% of IT professionals are men while girls taking maths, technology or science courses at A-level are in the minority; in a big way. Leading technology figures have speculated as to why this might be and a few recurring themes have cropped up.
One of the issues cited is cultural. Girls tend to associate technology with Facebook and socialising, whereas boys associate it with problem solving and games. Any interest that a girl might have in masculine technology might well be squashed; either by herself as she tries to feminise, or by a lack of encouragement from others.
"Girls don't see IT as creative. It is that image of the geek or nerd in a room typing lines of code," said Peter Mapstone, head of IT at King Edward VI School in Hampshire. And we can see where they’re coming from, right? Not a great look.
But it’s interesting to note that this cultural divide is not so prominent in other countries. Take India, for instance, where the proportion of women in tech jobs is a much healthier 30-70%. But why is this?
"Partly it is about how technology is positioned in those countries," said head of Lady Geek and author of Little Miss Geek, Belinda Palmar. "The status of technology is higher. If a girl came home and said that she is doing a technology GCSE or equivalent her parents would be really pleased.”
She believes that the key to getting more women into technology is encouraging them from a young age; “Year 8 is too late”, and argues that convincing them that coding and creativity go hand in hand is really very important, “Girls like the idea of doing something that will have an impact on society”, she added.
However, studies also suggest that it isn’t just a cultural issue stopping girls going into technology, but also a biological one, too.
Male and female brains work in different ways, as Emma Mulqueeny, head of Rewired Reality explains:
"Boys' brains work differently to girls' brains when it comes to breaking down a problem and finding a solution. Most things that are currently being built for solving problems have been done from the male brain perspective. Products girls build are very simple and they may have a series of them rather than one complicated and inter-connected solution," she added. This means that any girl considering a career in technology might well waver as she begins the journey.
Few though they may be, there are a growing number of leading female figures in technology; women such as Marissa Meyer, who was bought in last summer to rescue the ailing Yahoo!, games writer Rhianna Pratchett who has been working on the latest Tom Raider and Mandy Chessell, a senior engineer at IBM.
And it looks like there are some young girls with bright futures in the techy world. 13 year old twins Elizabeth and Rebecca McPherson began coding at 11 to learn how to create apps that have a purpose in life. ‘Clever Wherever’ geo-locates someone and then alerts them to any dangers nearby using the Department of Transport accident data, police crime data and Google places. It will set off an alarm when you enter the area. The two girls got the idea from their peers who reported being uncomfortable walking home from school. The pair also won the ‘Apps for Good’ award for ‘Feelings in a Flash’ which allows teenagers to record, track and understand their emotions and mood swings. 14 year old Nina Devani set up technology company ‘Prompt Me Nina’ which is an app that allows users to set reminders for their passwords. She got the idea when her father forgot his Facebook password.
So, things are looking good for the future of women in technology. After all the FIRST EVER computer programmer was a woman, good old Ada. It will be a slow process, but here’s hoping the numbers will steadily rise. Even techy companies themselves want to attract more women; 64% said more females in the workplace would be beneficial. What on earth are the 36% up to? We bet they’re some dull-ass offices.