Twitter and Facebook’s recently released employee diversity figures highlight the technology industry’s unequivocal gender gap. The release of these figures for the very first time has prompted the resurgence of the much-needed “women in technology” discussion. Women currently fill just 15 percent of tech roles at Facebook and a mere 10 percent at Twitter and as a statement released by Facebook said: “We have more work to do – a lot more.”
The Marissa Meyers of the world do exist. However, unfortunately they are the exception, not the rule. It is absurd that although we live in a technologically developed world, so few women consider it as a career. Technology impacts everything we do, yet if numbers are anything to go by, we have so far failed to get the message across that careers in technology are an exciting option for men and women alike. The industry is still enormously male-dominated, and more needs to be done to encourage, inspire and, crucially, develop women’s roles in the industry.
Perception needs to change
The existing gender imbalance could be put down to the fact that, in the past, technology jobs have been viewed by women as being populated by men in basements, working alone, as a human extension of their computer. Even Marissa Meyer, CEO of Yahoo!, once stated in an interview that: “When people think about computer science, they imagine people with pocket protectors and thick glasses who code all night.” This perception alone is enough to put anyone off computer science for life.
The negative connotations associated with the technology industry create a vicious cycle, prompting young girls to shy away from choosing to study computer science once leaving school. The Higher Education Statistics Authority found that in recent years, a mere 17 percent of computer science graduates were women, compared to a hefty 83 percent of men. This in turn means there are less women qualified to fill the ever increasing number of tech positions, causing a lack of female representation in the industry overall.
Organisations need women who can code
In today’s advanced, technological world, the need for coding skills has evolved from being a desirable quality into being an essential part of everyday life. Women now have the chance to impact the world around them with a simple line of code, and organisations across the country are keen to recruit them.
President Obama recently made a call to get inspire more girls into science, technology engineering or maths (STEM) subjects, and companies across the world are in a race to be the ones to put an end to the gender imbalance. Over the past few years a multitude of free online courses and coding clubs have been made available, such as Codeacademy or Codability. These are straightforward, accessible initiatives that make it simple to fit in around a busy schedule, meaning it’s now easier and quicker to grasp the skills needed to succeed in computing. The most effective initiative in my opinion however, will be the introduction of computing to England’s curriculum from this month.
The potential this has for the country’s future is hugely exciting. Britain has a proud history of excellence in computing. British programmer Alan Turing’s work inspired today’s modern computers and the World Wide Web was created by Englishman Sir Tim Berners-Lee in 1991. Somewhere along the way though, we lost focus. Our education system has ignored the explosion of computing, the internet and technology overall. It’s now getting back on track with the introduction of the new Computing curriculum.
England’s overhaul of the curriculum will give young boys and girls an invaluable understanding of computational systems, enabling them to fully grasp the power and limits of computing. Teaching both boys and girls to code at school from a young age will provide equal exposure to the subject, levelling the playing field when it comes to choosing degrees and careers later on in life. By immersing girls in technology and computing from a young age, they will see exactly how exciting, fast-paced and rewarding creating technology from scratch can be.
Companies and code clubs can help
Various different initiatives by companies and code clubs in the country will hopefully make the transition to the new curriculum seamless. Ocado Technology’s own initiative - Rapid Router, a free coding teaching resource – has been specifically designed to help primary teachers deliver the new curriculum in the classroom. It’s the first in a series of educational resources we’re developing to help inspire young people to take up a career in computer science. Codecademy is another fantastic initiative, offering free coding classes in six different programming languages through a variety of fun and interactive games.
Of course, there is no fast and hard solution to the problem. Gender inequality in technology isn’t going to be achieved overnight. However it happens, we need more women in technology.
Previously male-dominated sectors such as law and medicine have hugely benefited from women’s contributions, becoming richer and more diverse as a result. It’s time technology benefitted too.