There aren’t enough of us females working in technology – so why is that, what are the latest developments – and what will happen next?
Well firstly, there may be some truth in the ‘men are from Mars, women from Venus’ type of thinking. In other words, there may be some truth in the old cliché that women have a deeper emotional intelligence and understanding about things in general whilst our less emotive counterparts in general have a readier understanding of things technical.
For example – studies have shown that just a few hours following birth, girls are already more sensitive than their male counterparts to touch. And at less than two days old, girls have been proved to linger longer on another human face than do boys – but when it comes to looking at a suspended mechanical mobile, the opposite is true.
But these are still mainly sweeping generalizations. And as the requirement for people working in technology to be ever more creative and less out and out technically based, you could be forgiven for thinking that it’s high time the pendulum began to swing the other way. But that isn’t happening yet.
When will technology overtake more traditional female pursuits? Image by brendahallowes
For example, recent figures from the UK suggest that a mere 17% of all the country’s tech jobs are occupied by women. Yet women make up 49% of the entire workforce of the country. Meanwhile, in the so-called ‘Stem’ areas of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, the fairer sex make up only 13% of the UK workforce. And finally, in engineering, women score lower still, making up just 8% of the entire professional engineering workforce.
Intuitively, we all know this is the case in most of the developed world. It may be higher in some countries than others, but the stats from the UK are probably generally illustrative of the rest of the world. In short, women make up a far smaller proportion of the techie workforce than they should do if both sexes are equal in this regard. And even if there’s a slight innate / inborn difference – it doesn’t go anywhere near explaining the variance in the employment statistics – the numbers are simply too extreme.
The discrepancy may also have something to do with the nature of technological applications. So in some rapid-growth areas like the gaming and gambling world, you might expect men to dominate. Sports betting, and other forms of gambling, for example, are one of the fastest growing areas of technological deployment on the web as the providers gear up to try and take advantage of opening up international markets. And this is a traditionally male-dominated area on both sides of the fence – the supply and demand side.
Gambling is a fast-growing area of technological development and application – image by JohnSeb.
But if women are the better communicators, the rapid growth of social media would suggest that more women should be employed in these areas. So it isn’t as simple as looking at the applications.
But why are these areas gender specific in the first place? Is it really something genetic or biological, or does it really have more to do with the environment we create in our culture and our resultant societal conditioning?
Well according to the same study from the UK, boys and girls are equally likely to study the Stem subjects up to 16 years of age, but thereafter the female participation drops off a great deal.
Similarly, the same holds true at the next career stage. So whilst the numbers of females studying scientific and technical subjects post 16 drops in comparison to their male counterparts, it gets even worse when it comes to careers. From the UK females who study science or technical subjects at university level, two from three then don’t continue on to pursue Stem subject related careers.
So why is there such a gap in post-16 study then such a huge drop off at post educational stage? Is it down to choice or because women don’t get offered the right career positions?
Well in some cases the reasons are simple – it’s because the educational choices aren’t always available at girls’ schools or unisex schools in the first place.
Then there’s a huge amount of peer group pressure caused by cultural conditioning and (maybe…) the afore-mentioned biological / genetic reasons. So simply put, if all your friends are studying media, art, English, drama or whatever else, you’re more likely to follow the same route rather than feeling the odd woman out in pursuing more scientific and/or technical subject areas with the boys. Choosing ICT or computer science is may be a bold choice for a few girls determined to progress in this area – but they have to be determined in some cases.
But whilst the UK may be fairly typical of the older more developed world, this may not necessarily be indicative of the position in the faster-developing economies including some of the “BRIC” nations. For example, in South Africa, India and Brazil, there are far greater numbers of women working in technology. In these countries – it is considered much more the normal run of events.
Brazil, in particular, punches far above its international weight. In fact, the powerhouse of South America ranks the highest in the overall representation of women in the career areas of science and technology, according to a recent report from the “WISAT” organization – Women in Global Science and Technology.
by CDI Apps for Good
Brazil leads the world for women in career areas of science and technology- image by CDI Apps for Good.
Some of Brazil’s success is certainly down to specific state-sponsored programs specifically designed to support women in the workforce. These include things like funding for female education along with research and support of the entrepreneurship of women.
But in all these countries, the real answer is probably a lot more subtle – the truth is that there is a greater cultural acceptance of women in the scientific and technological workforce in positions of seniority – it’s just the way things are. And the culture has a huge effect on gender representation in all career areas. But what’s more fundamentally interesting is that it proves it isn’t only down to birth – so somehow, it’s time to make the change more real in the rest of the world too.