Did you know that the first computer programmer was a woman? In the 1840s, Ada Lovelace wrote the world’s first machine algorithm. Also, the first modern coders in the 1940s were women. So, how did the tech industry eventually become a world underrepresented by women, and how can we shift the course?
In light of the celebration of the International Women’s Day yesterday, it’s relevant to address the reality that, still in the year 2020, the technology industry is characterised by inequalities. Although sincere efforts have been put into effect to narrow the gap by companies, authorities and individuals over the years, tech is still predominantly a man’s world even to this day.
How is inequality in tech problematic?
Technology is arguably the most powerful contributor in shaping the future, meaning that much of the power in building the society of tomorrow lies in the hands of those designing and developing the technology we will use onwards.
The problem is that women only make up about a quarter of the workforce in the technology sector today.
We are all consumers of technology in one way or another, and our lives are becoming increasingly influenced by it. However, when only parts of the population dominate the tech industry, it forms a skewed foundation for developing technology intended for the whole society – which is far more diverse. Absence of a plurality of visions, ideas and representation of people in tech can, therefore, lead to further social inequalities.
Technology for diverse needs should be built by people who understand those needs; in other words, a diverse workforce. Building the society of tomorrow is far too large of a responsibility for only certain demographics to have control of.
Why is tech unwelcoming to women?
When looking at the statistics, inequality in tech is quite staggering. Today, women make up 28% of the employees in the Norwegian IT sector (Kantar), and only 27% of females would consider a career in technology, compared to 62% of males (PwC). Whereas just 4% of tech startups and companies are founded and owned by women (DNB).
It begs the question: why is tech still unwelcoming to women in 2020?
As technology is likely to be one of the most prominent drivers of the economy going forward, it is vital that women also study, work and innovate in this field. If not, we are at the risk of losing a large amount of innovative competence.
Arguably, there are a complex, but related set of reasons for why women are underrepresented in tech:
Working in tech is fundamentally misunderstood
We must redefine what it means to work in tech. Pursuing a career in tech is ultimately for everyone, but many have a poor understanding of what working in technology actually entails.
Tech is more than coding.
As the tech industry is booming, many exciting new roles must be filled in the future, with room for a variety of backgrounds, interests and skills. Of course, we need talented programmers, but we also need people who understand how to apply the technology in businesses and societies to create a better workplace and society as a whole. Working with sales, product development, customer experiences, and legal requirements also mean working with technology.
Too few girls consider tech as a career
Even if there is a will to employ more women in tech, we still lack women with the necessary motivation and skills, as not enough choose to study STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics).
Putting technology forward as a possible education and career option also for girls must begin at an early age. Society, schools and the industry hold a great responsibility in encouraging and introducing children, and especially young girls, to all aspects of what careers in the technology sector look like. Particularly recognising that working in technology means contributing to building a better and more sustainable future can encourage more girls to opt for a career path in tech.
Female role models matter – but we need more
Without female role models in tech, it can be difficult for other women to picture themselves in an industry that is commonly identified with male leadership and stereotypes.
Visible female role models can essentially lead to a shift in these perceptions, and tech-companies hold responsibility in promoting its female employees both inside and outside of the organisation. Fortunately, female founders and tech leaders have become more noticeable in recent years through initiatives such as networks and mentoring programs.
Diversity for better business
Looking back at history, it’s apparent that tech is not a field where women are newcomers, but rather where women have a history and belonging.
However, it’s important to stress that diversity is about more than gender balance and that it’s equally important to address diversity at all levels. Without problem-solvers representing all backgrounds and distinctive perspectives, there will be limited innovation and thinking outside the box. It is proven that inclusive thinking simply sparks better and more sustainable business results.
Fortunately, we are on the right path, witnessing a tech industry that is gradually progressing towards workplace equality. Yet, we still have a way to go, but by treating diversity as a top business priority with a joint commitment we can shift the course together.