By Zara H. Ferjani
Woman are increasingly making headway in leadership positions from business to law. One of the last areas that has come under the spotlight in recent years is Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths (STEM). The dialogue around, and push for, women in STEM has since been rewarded with increasing representation at higher levels and in education. However, women remain significantly underrepresented in engineering and computing careers, where 80 percent of all STEM employment lies. There are two fundamental barriers that face women in tech: not pursuing engineering and computing in education, and all male boards in companies.
Recent research has highlighted some worrying statistics concerning young women and the choices they make about their further education. In the last 30 years, the number of young women pursuing and completing programs in engineering and tech has dropped significantly: it is no longer an appealing subject. For women today technology is often seen as a ‘geeky’ profession where you sit behind your computer all day. Young women feel marginalised because engineering and computer science classes at university are dominated by men. Is there space for a woman in these environments? Given the low number of women pursuing tech in education, that estimates show that 75-78% of privately funded tech companies have no women on their boards.
There is, however, also a cultural problem lurking behind these statistics. Horror stories of sexism in the tech capital of the world, Silicon Valley, are rife and off-putting to women who seek to make a success of their careers around the world. As recent as 2013 the New York Times quoted that as ‘technology zooms along as one of the fastest growing sectors of the economy, its doors remain virtually closed to women’. The statistics reflect this sad truth with only 5.7 percent of employed women in the US working in the computer industry.
The reasons these two barriers exist are plentiful: venture capital funding rarely goes to women-owned businesses; discomfort in the work environment; overt or implicit discrimination; in comparison to men double the number of women in technology leave their employers mid-career; women are less likely to pursue qualifications in computer science; there is a lack of female mentors for students in tech, and the list goes on. This accumulates into a catch-22 situation where without the right role models at executive level, the stereotype and imaging of tech as a male subject is unlikely to change and there will be a dearth of future female leaders in tech.
The good news? The trend is starting to shift. People have taken notice of the cry for more women in tech and there are innovative programmes out there to help push women into tech and up the career ladder. Two such examples are:
• Girls Who Code, a program that aims to help close the gender gap in technology through inspiring girls to pursue computer science by exposing them to real life and on screen role models.
• theBoardlist, a curated talent marketplace for the tech community to recommend, discover and connect highly qualified women leaders with great tech board opportunities at scale.
Change from the bottom up is as important as change from the top down. With an increased amount of women leaders in all areas of tech it will become more apparent to the next generation of young women that tech is not actually a good career path to follow.