We can do it! Getting women into technology
by Isla Kennedy // 15 February 2013, 09:30
The only girl in my school Computing class of six, I was always the best at the so-called 'girlie' theory, but also competed to be best at programming (the top boy had higher marks, but I wasn't far behind!) When choosing my degree subject it was a battle between Computer Science and Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE). PPE won, but I have always been interested in technology, and after my dreams of joining the Army ended with a serious skiing accident, I decided to try technology consultancy. I am currently involved in the non-technical side of a technology project, focussing on enterprise readiness, but I am also starting a 'Technology Club' for colleagues, where we learn programming and how to use the technology my company sells. Pleasantly, interest has been 50:50 men and women.
I want to use my experiences to inspire girls to get into technology. To me, technology is relevant, new and exciting, an enabler that I use every day. I want all kids, but girls in particular, to realise that technology doesn't mean just nerds, programming, shoot-em-up games and difficult technical stuff - not that girls can't get involved in this too! - but also collaboration, creativity and exciting gadgets.
To stop girls being 'scared' of technology we need to change perceptions early. Technology toys should be marketed towards girls too, but more importantly we need encouragement from parents and the removal of social expectations. Many parents push girls towards certain types of toy and boys towards others, but my mum didn't want us to be subject to such stereotypes. She bought us Lego/Duplo, Scaletrix and Meccano, but I am afraid they hardly got a look in against my dolls and fold up Post Office! We should look at the toys and activities many girls enjoy and create technology toys with this in mind, to try to maximise interest. For example, Goldie Blox girls' engineering toys combine stories, which many girls love, with construction. Not all girls like the same things, but this is a start. With changes in education, such as improvements in the ICT/Computing curriculum, the use of the Raspberry Pi in schools and Google funding for Teach First, we can make technology more exciting.
I am working with colleagues to set up a Schools' Programme, with the aim of getting more girls interested in technology . We are still in the planning phase, but the general idea is to reach out to year 7 and 8 girls, possibly bringing them into the office to learn a bit of coding, hear stories from our female leaders, and get exposed to the wonderful opportunities of a technology career. We may take them to external events and run a prize competition. We are still thinking through all the ideas, but hopefully this will be a great initiative to get more girls into technology!
Not all technology careers require a technical foundation or STEM degree, and there are plenty of opportunities in areas like consulting, where you can get a job with any good degree, as long as you are interested in technology. A humanities graduate myself, I work with my company's graduate recruitment team to organise student events to help meet our 50% target for female graduates this year. I really enjoy meeting students, both with technical backgrounds and without, and exposing them to the mixture of people in tech careers. They start to look at the industry differently.
I have often been asked if I encounter any discrimination at work. I always answer no. This might just be my personal experience and/or just within my company, but I have never felt there are any gendered barriers to me achieving what I want. (Though not everyone is so lucky.) However, there is a lack of role models. Most of the senior leadership I have worked with have been men. I have met fantastic women through work, who definitely inspire me, but there just aren't enough yet. They come in at graduate level, but we struggle to retainthem and to fill experienced hire positions with women. I believe this is the case for many other businesses.
A myriad of groups is trying to get girls and women into science and technology, such as Little Miss Geek, the Stemettes and eSkill's CC4G. To me, the key is inspiration and role models, as well as changing wider gender stereotypes. Shared parental leave will mean mothers' options are less restricted and help change the view of childcare as a woman's issue to a family issue. As opportunities broaden and stereotypes relax we will see more women through the ranks of technology careers, and so more female role models. Initiatives like school technology clubs, industry/company schemes and improvements in education can create change. And hopefully we will see that horrible 17%* stat disappear!
* 17% of technology workforce is female - E-Skills (2011) Analysis of data from the ONS Labour Force Survey 2001 to 2010, London.