How do we increase the numbers of women in technology based careers?

The structure of social scales begins at Primary school, as you begin to develop your own understanding of what’s socially acceptable. This is usually a structure which is designed and implemented by your group of social peers, overlaid with individual likes and dislikes, tendencies, personality traits. All these combine to create your interpretation of social hierarchy and where you are within it.

So, what does social acceptance have to do with being a woman in technology? The answer – a hell of a lot.

In my extensive research with companies who are exploring advertising campaigns to reach women to improve their diversity levels, they all seem to miss one thing. Prevention is always better than the cure. In this sense, this regards dynamics and age. The usual target audience for women in tech campaigns is graduation age, due to most tech companies wanting to fill vacancies for university graduates. This will not solve the pipeline issue. Many technology companies will take on a graduate with any degree (like many grad schemes) and offer them an intensive graduate programme to get their training up to scratch to do their required future job role. So, imagine doing a degree in psychology and applying for a graduation scheme within a software company for coding. It’s not likely to happen. How many psychology grads would even attend out of interest? However, the psychologist graduate may not be aware that, for example, UX design, which works to understand the psychology of our users and their experience, is a form of sought-after software design. Women in particular seem to be completely bored with or misunderstand tech, why? Simple, it is not usually a socially acceptable role.

Compare this with the male gender. Men going into such job roles as primary school teaching or nursing are almost always guaranteed (or possess a considerable advantage) a job within the sector, why? Because it’s not a socially accepted role. The world we live in now wants to generate a world without stigma, where the gender statistics and expectations are dissolved as much as possible, the ‘be who you want to be’ without stigma era is here! We’ve seen a huge increase in eradicating the gender role throughout the past few years, including the beginning of equality of pay. There is also now the largest number of (let’s applaud them all) stay at home dads that there ever has been! How great?

All is not fully there yet, we still have some important steps to take before we remove the stigma associated with gender expectations. The only way to eradicate these behaviours and stigmas is to begin resolving the problem before the problem has even occurred. This starts with our children. Think back to school years, what subjects did you favour? What lessons did you enjoy?  Did you choose these subjects because you enjoyed them, or because your friends chose them? Did you select courses and topics simply because others did too? Some will say no, but think about this logically, the main barrier to getting girls of a young age into coding or related technology roles is interest and social acceptance. How many girls want to be a nurse because their mum is one? How many want to go into the beauty or hairdressing sector? How many boys want to be a footballer? I would assume many and there’s nothing wrong with these chosen careers whatsoever, however, how can you know this is automatically what you want to do if you haven’t been exposed to alternative interests that are out there? Subjects that are outside the social peer group’s interest, or are a far cry from what family members are employed in. Think of the infamous film ‘Mean Girls’ (if you’ve not seen it, you can’t sit with us), the main character possesses a natural talent for mathematics, however due to social pressure from her peers she is enforced with the stigma ‘mathematics club is literally, social suicide’. Thus, being imposed with the choice of choose math and be branded a complete loser for the rest of your life, or stay with us and be popular.

Now, I’m fortunate and not fortunate equally at the same time. I went back to my degree as a mature student with children, I therefore possessed life skills and confidence from literally ‘living’. However, I originally trained as a dental nurse, while behind closed doors I would code and code and code… I never told anyone. And honestly, even if I did, no one has a bloody clue or remote interest in what I do unless it involves Facebook and hacking. But I don’t mind, in fact it has its perks when you’re in general discussions outside work and people ask “So, what do you do?”. I’d say 90% of the people who ask have already made their minds up that obviously, with three children, I must be a stay at home mum. When I reply “I’m a Software Engineer” I do get some confused looks. It’s not their fault though, 60% haven’t got a clue what my actual job role is and the remaining 40% usually look at me like some form of alien that’s abandoned their children. However, becoming a ‘woman’ in technology has its perks. In my research, numerous amounts of women that I know have gone into teaching simply for the term time hours. They’re filled with the idea that they are able to reduce their childcare bill dramatically, still have sufficient time with their children, yet still have the ability to be a working mother without too much impact on their family life. Don’t believe the dream. Term-time roles are excellent for the prevention of huge or extended childcare bills, however teachers don’t work 9-3, or the ones I discussed this with don’t. Teaching is a long-hours, five days a week role and should not be under-estimated. Teachers work hard and have high expectations and masses of responsibility for the development and education of our future generation. However, work in IT and actually have the ability to earn in a usually very well paid role and work remotely (from home) numerous times (or sometimes full time) all week. Obtain benefits and discounts to help your family including many professional benefits such as private healthcare and childcare vouchers, obtain these with being able to also do school runs, fly to those doctor appointments, have the ability to stay off with your sick child without feeling as though you are going to lose your job. Don’t feel punished for being a working mum. If you yourself now, yes you who is reading this, search for an IT related role in Indeed for example, right now with the location as remote you will see the mass demand this sector has, not just for women but for people who have the tech skills or who are willing to learn.

Regarding schools, the only presentation I was subjected to regarding coding involved a robot and that was after I had applied to study Software Engineering at Sheffield Hallam University, you can imagine my thrill of excitement. Where is the drive to even pull girl’s interests into the likes of technology? Every campaign I have seen has been male orientated, thus increasing the stigma that it’s a male aimed presentation, and a male labelled role. Why not produce talks on web design and application building that involves such stereo-typing girl hobbies as street dancing, fashion or beauty? Why is this not happening? It’s very hypocritical for me to sit here and pledge to you about the hypocrisy of wanting girls to get into technology by using stereo-types, however, this is the only way to engage interest and actually allow social acceptance. If coding is seen as a female and male gender acceptance role, then if either sex holds an interest in it, they can be allowed to break the chains without a concern of a social back lash. How great would that be? This would stem the stigma and build the interest for women in the technology sector rapidly, by simply starting at the bottom. Bring technology further into the schools, let children see both men and women presenting in all sectors, allow children’s minds to grow and develop with knowledge and confidence. This is the only way (I believe) to change this situation and actually increase numbers of females rapidly into the sector. However, what do I know, I’m down as the 2% of female geeks that simply lives and breathes code with interest. Ha.