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Why so few women in tech?

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Just 17 per cent of technology workforces are women – what is keeping them away?

Recent figures from the UK Home Office show that despite making up nearly half of the total UK workforce, women account for just 17 per cent of those working in IT and Telecoms.

Despite increasing media coverage of high profile women in technology, such as Sheryl Sandberg (COO of Facebook) and Marissa Mayer (CEO and President of Yahoo) the figures are clear that these women are the exception and not a new rule.

It is not so surprising, then, that the media coverage of these prominent female figures focuses more on their experiences as a woman in technology than their actual job roles.

Sandberg is asked to speak frequently but her more popular talks and headlines cover such areas as being a woman in a senior role or saying its OK to cry at work.

Whereas Mayer has made the headlines because she was hired when she was pregnant, then again after adding motherhood to her list of “challenges”.

Would her male counterpart’s family status received such coverage?

Inequality in boardrooms across all industries has received attention in recent months, it is an international issue with women making up just 21% of senior managers.

However, the technology industry doesn’t just have an issue with senior mobility of women but they have trouble attracting them in the first place.

The problem starts in our schools according to the Royal Artillery Centre for Personal Development who report that those choosing IT at GCSE level is declining for both genders but the numbers are even smaller for women.

At A-level in 2011 92 per cent of those studying ITC were male and moving on into higher education women made up just 14 per cent of applicants and 16 per cent of acceptances overall.

Yet, for those 17 per cent that make it into the technology industry there seems to be growing support within companies. For example Facebook’s Girl Geek Dinners or organisations, such as Lady Geek, created primarily to support women in Technology.

So with a growing set of female role models and active encouragement, why is technology still failing to interest women?

One suggestion raised time and again is that it simply isn’t attractive enough, it is still thought to be the domain of men with only unnaturally intelligent and nerdy girls getting a look in.

A recent article by the Guardian referenced a quote from Belinda Parmar’s book, Little Miss Geek, which says that commonly: “The ultimate goal is to make Tech more glamorous and desirable to women.”

An unrealistic task given that large aspects of the industry are simply neither. The Guardian article goes on to ponder whether it could actually be that “low-key nature of developing, perhaps even the male environment ” that is a key attracter for women. However others argue that it is the male environment that puts women off.

Parmar goes on to say “The industry wants to change – it knows the gender balance is off, and will probably do things to address that.”

Of course, one could argue that the title of her book “Little Miss Geek” is pandering to and perpetuating the very stereotypes she is trying to combat, but her message is strong:  What women want from roles in Technology is not access to more men or glamour but exciting career opportunities, creative encouragement and a clear career path.

  1. If you read this article, you might notice that the term “geek” is used several times. All this nonsense about women in Computing being geeks certainly puts girls off, especially as we all know that girls are more subject to peer pressure and general expectations to conform to stereotypes than boys. Being different is not something you want to enhance when you are already struggling to keep everybody happy. So lesson one could be to teach our daughters that you don’t have to please everybody and being nice is not necessarily all that important.
    Furthermore, those Ladies who make it to the top do not even attempt to support other women but are very careful to perpetuate their special status.
    I have been in IT for a long time and it is no place for someone who can’t handle a lot of men with massive egos and no competency to back it up. So, perhaps lesson two would be to stop boosting their egos and letting them know what we really think?
    Just an idea…..

    • Absolutely, it seems like the issue is at grass roots level where young women aren’t even taking studying IT/tech. I think the focus has changed today and actually tech is a really creative, fast paced and exciting environment to be in but perhaps we arent channelling that to young women. Alternatively tech is embedded into our every day lives rather than be a niche specialism so some ‘IT’ course feel a bit dated.

    • vicki wharton says:

      I think that most women in positions of power know that they have to be more male than men to be allowed in the club they tend to enjoy a pretty short lifespan. I don’t agree with not helping other women but I can see how dangerous it becomes for your own survival … if you want to see how men react when you defend other women you only have to try it on line to get an idea of what their thoughts and reactions to feminism and equality are. If you need further proof, check out the way they promote rape and call women bitches and whores in their mainstream media – you can tell a lot about what people think by the media they buy.

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