Technology, we have a (gender) problem
In today’s digital world, technology is making an impact in virtually every industry and sector. With trends such as AI, 3D printing and robotics gaining traction in our everyday lives, it’s becoming clear that more and more jobs will require STEM – science, technology, engineering and maths – skills in the future.
Silicon Valley and London’s own Silicon Roundabout are thought to possess some of the greatest technological thinkers of the modern age. But where are the female equivalents of Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates? Well, Forbes’ Richest People in Tech list has Zhou Qunfei, self-made smartphone screen maker, in at number 33.
It’s fair to say that men continue to dominate the tech industry. A 2015 study carried out by WISE showed that women make up just 14% of the UK STEM workforce. No matter where you turn, the stats remain pretty ugly – only 7% of tech positions in Europe are filled by women, and worldwide women make up less than 20% of tech leadership positions in their respective countries.
Why tech needs women
This disparity is about more than just gender equality; it is having a detrimental effect on the tech industry as a whole. As an increasing number of roles require certain and specific technical skills, there is a growing concern about whether there will be enough qualified workers to fill future vacancies. However, if the gender gap reduced and more women were employed into IT-related roles, the net benefit for the UK economy is estimated to be £2.6bn each year.
Employing women can boost company valuation, morale and creativity. Both genders naturally think and act in different ways and according to research, undertaken by the University of Castilla-La Mancha in Spain, having better gender diversity in R&D teams leads to a varied source of creative ideas, perspective, and therefore better business decisions.
So what’s going on? In an era when women continue to excel in sport, business and the media, why are there so few women in tech? Many factors contribute to the gender imbalance in STEM fields, some blame human nature and women’s interests, but the most substantial obstacle to females in STEM industries is education.
Get in early
We know this gender gap exists. Those of us in the tech industry regularly read and talk about it but not enough is being done to tackle it. We must dispel the old-fashioned notion that the industry is an ‘all boys club’ and encourage girls, by stamping out the stereotype that science and maths are ‘male’ fields, as early as possible.
Girls must be inspired to pursue maths, science and technology related subjects from as early as primary school. By offering STEM related workshops, compelling curriculum content and hands-on lab experiences, this will open their imaginations to the possibilities within this growing industry.
More must also be done to expose young women to successful women working in STEM fields. The technology industry is far from short of potential female role models. Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg was named as Forbes’ Most Powerful Woman for the fifth consecutive year and other tech giants including Google and Microsoft also have women at their helms. Yet these women are relatively unknown to those outside of the industry, making it difficult for younger women to see evidence of the tech sector as a potential career path.
Jocelyn Goldfein, Director of Engineering at Facebook and the brains behind some of the social network giant’s best known products, described the lack of female participation in STEM fields as a “vicious cycle.” With skills shortages predicted in the next decade, the industry must now be dedicated to breaking this “cycle” and actively encourage women to enter, develop and stay in technology. Diversity needs to be at the top of the agenda for companies of all sizes. Otherwise, will technology be able to continue at the rate it is developing right now?
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