I recently read a report by Deloitte which stated that, by the end of 2016, fewer than 25% of information technology jobs in developed countries will be held by women. That’s quite bleak, especially for women and young girls who are thinking about starting and developing a career in IT.
That got me reading on the topic of “women in tech” a little more. It’s a well-known topic and a lot of people have suggested potential reasons for this gap: an unconscious gender bias brought about by tech being a “boy’s club”; very few female role models in the tech industry; but perhaps most interestingly, the concept of a “brogrammer” culture: competitive male developers who are in it to prove they’re the best in a macho, masculine way, shouldering anyone else to the sidelines. I’m no stranger to the brogrammer culture: I’ve worked alongside men who behave this way, and it’s apparent when I attend developer events as well. But as an answer to the question “why don’t girls consider IT and STEM as career choices from a young age”, that might be too simplistic.
My interest in computers began as a child. I can’t remember a time when we didn’t have a computer in the house - my dad was, and is, a massive geek, and prided himself on being an early adopter of everything and anything. He encouraged me to tinker, explore and break things. Without a shadow of a doubt, my enthusiasm and interest stemmed from those years when he let me run loose on his PC (and invariably end up breaking something).
I was really lucky to attend a well-equipped primary school until I was 10, where we had IT lessons once a week, learning about how to use computers to solve real-world problems. My secondary school was an all-girls’ school, where we did our IT GCSE at the end of year 9 - two years early. Some of my peers even went on to do their A level IT while we were doing our GCSEs.
That said, my secondary school was in a rural location, and many of my peers seemed preprogrammed to believe they would move into well-known careers like teaching, childcare or even farming. Aspirations to move into STEM-related careers amongst my fellow students were few and far between, even though our teachers were constantly pushing us towards medicine, veterinary sciences, IT, mathematics and the like. The opportunities existed and our teachers were great at encouraging us to consider STEM as a career choice, but most students passed it over completely.
So, it begs the question: if these children knew there were career opportunities available in STEM, and they knew they were lucrative, well-paid jobs, why did they pass them over for other, more traditional options? Why are so few girls willing to choose a career in STEM?
This got me thinking about how STEM is portrayed as a career. My role as a web developer is all about logic-based problem solving: it’s critical thinking at its very finest. We should be demonstrating to kids how fun and rewarding it can be when you’re presented with a real world problem, and how you use computer programming in a logical way to arrive at a solution.
As an avid digital artist in my spare time, I feel we should expand to students of the arts, demonstrating how computer design can be a viable career alternative. So often schools pigeonhole artistry as “painting bowls of fruit on paper”, skimming over the awesome world of technology: there’s graphic design, animation, games design, music production and so much more. A career in IT doesn’t necessarily mean programming!
So often people choose careers because they feel fulfilled in them: teachers because they like teaching and nurturing kids; doctors because they like to care for others; historians because they enjoy history. With tech, it’s important to sell the story in a different way. We need to ditch the perception of “if you work with computers, you’re geeky and uncool”, and frame a career in tech as “a way to solve problems”, so that we can inspire inquisitive minds from an early age.
But what about when it comes to boys versus girls? What’s the solution for getting more girls into tech? Well, in my view everything I’ve said here applies to both boys and girls. I would have hated being singled out as a special case because I was “a girl who liked computers” - like some kind of unicorn!
I’m a staunch believer that if a person doesn’t like something, they simply won’t pursue it. If you show children - boys and girls alike - how technology can be enjoyed and fulfilling, without introducing gender roles, they’ll be more likely to consider tech as a career.
The key is to forget about gender, and start focusing on the exciting opportunities that choosing a career in STEM can bring about!