Despite efforts to increase the diversity in the technology industry, little progress has been made over the past decade. The percentage of women in the tech sector remains low at 16%.
During the Second World War, hundreds of women were hired to solve calculations that helped the Allies win the war. Throughout the 1950s, computer software programming was seen as ‘women’s work’, the alternative to the male vocation of hardware development.
As late as the 1960s many people perceived computer programming as a natural career choice for savvy young women. Even the trend-spotters at Cosmopolitan Magazine urged their fashionable female readership to consider careers in programming. In an article titled “The Computer Girls,” the magazine described the field as offering better job opportunities for women than many other professional careers. As computer scientist Dr. Grace Hopper told a reporter, programming was “just like planning a dinner. You have to plan ahead and schedule everything so that it’s ready when you need it…. Women are ‘naturals’ at computer programming.” James Adams, the director of education for the Association for Computing Machinery, agreed: “I don’t know of any other field, outside of teaching, where there’s as much opportunity for a woman.” (Brenda D. Frink, Smithsonian Magazine)
In the 1970s and early 1980s, the number of US women pursuing degrees in computer science grew to 37% – nearly twice the number recorded in 2015. However, revolutionary software developments brought a gold rush to Silicon Valley and the focus for men shifted from hardware to software. The media also gave rise to the idea of the ‘male tech genius’ with its focus on Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, and the number of women working in technology began to drop.
As of 2017, females hold just 24% of computer science jobs and occupy roughly 11% of executive positions in America’s tech hub Silicon Valley. The 2018 Women in Tech Index, which analyses 41 countries in the EU and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), highlights gender disparity found in the technology sector.
Now, it’s not that managers of yore respected women more than they do now. They simply saw computer programming as an easy job. It was like typing or filing to them and the development of software was less important than the development of hardware. So women wrote software, programmed and even told their male colleagues how to make the hardware better. (It turns out programming is hard, and women are actually just as good at it as men.)
Photo : Two women operating ENIAC (U.S. Army), Smithsonian Magazine.
What changed? Well, male programmers wanted to elevate their job out of the “women’s work” category. They created professional associations and discouraged the hiring of women. Ads began to connect women staffers with error and inefficiency. They instituted math puzzle tests for hiring purposes that gave men who had taken math classes an advantage, and personality tests that purported to find the ideal “programming type".
The graphic below shows the percentage of women in tech jobs per country, as per 2018 :
One explanation for the high proportion of Eastern European women in technology is the legacy that communism has left behind. Under state communism, it was compulsory for women to have a job in addition to caring for their children. Young women were more inclined to choose a role that guaranteed financial security for their families, investing their time in STEM areas rather than humanities. This tradition was also partly due to the fact that humanities, where freedom of expression could be displayed, were a risky choice under a communist regime; mathematics and science were much safer interests. Consequently, many women in post-socialist countries combined full-time STEM jobs with domestic tasks and their daughters are now following in their footsteps.
However, even though this outlook is extremely positive in the Eastern Europe, in other countries (like in Japan) the trend is completly the opposit.
If women are not the best option for the recruters, by the other side, IT jobs are not the first option for them.
Since IT jobs are still known as "heavy hourly load" jobs, for women who have chosen a life with family and maternity, it can be an issue.
They rather prefer a part-time job, which is not yet largely availabe in IT market.
For the year close, Computer Weekly magazine looked over the top 10 "diversity in tech" and "women in tech" highlights of 2019 :
1. Tech Talent Charter launches benchmark to keep tabs on gender in IT roles
Many believe the dial won’t shift towards parity for women in tech unless diversity and inclusion initiatives are measured, and as such the year kicked off with the Tech Talent Charter (TTC) launching a report to benchmark the current state of gender diversity in its signatory businesses to allow proper measurement of future progress made by following its guidelines.
More than 70% of the TTC’s signatory firms already have policies in place to promote diversity throughout their organisations, and each year the industry collaborative will release anonymised data about these members to determine whether any change has taken place as a result of these measures.
2. Women more at risk of job automation
Concerns about job automation are ever increasing in the current digital climate, with technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning threatening to automate tasks and replace roles in many sectors.
While some roles are at a greater risk than others in the wake of automation, research found women are at a higher risk of job automation because of the types of roles more likely to be held by women.
Roles such as retail cashiers, manufacturing plant employees and waiting staff are not only most likely to be automated, but are also the most likely to be held by women.
3. Half of women in tech say diversity is not a company priority
A lot is being done to try to attract and retain female talent, but some firms aren’t following suit.
According to a survey by Booking.com, around half of women in the tech sector said their company was not doing anything to make gender diversity a business focus.
Booking.com CEO Gillian Tans said diversity in tech is not just about finding talent for the sector, but supporting the women who are already a part of tech, and those who are not doing their best to encourage diversity are missing out on a large talent pool.
Almost 90% of women in tech said companies could benefit from increasing the gender diversity of the through sharing different perspectives, backgrounds and experiences to those already making up a majority of technology roles.
4. Winners of Makers’ Women in Software Powerlist announced
The first annual Women in Software Powerlist was announced in 2019 by software development academy Makers in a bid to shine a light on some of the amazing female talent in the software sector.
Software development is often one of the most heavily stereotyped areas of the technology industry, seen as a boys club best suited to hoodie-wearing loners.
To prove this wrong and showcase some of the more diverse female talent in the sector, Makers paired with tech community hub Level 39 to name 30 women – considered rising stars who have been in the software sector for less than 10 years – as representatives of the best of the coding community.
These women will also act as role models for those considering the technology and software development sector in the future.
5. Interview: Tapping into the invisible talent pool
Diversity in the technology sector isn’t always about emphasising the need for equal gender representation.
There are lots of people who don’t fit the stereotypical ideals of a tech sector worker who can offer the technology and digital industries different perspectives and ideas.
Victoria Clutton, SharePoint co-ordinator for Altran UK, found her job through a charity called Astriid which helps connect firms looking for skilled workers with those with chronic illnesses who still want to work but cannot have a traditional job.
Clutton suffers from chronic fatigue syndrome/myalgic encephalomyelitis (CFS/ME), and offered the advice: “While chronically ill people need a lot of flexibility, they offer a lot of flexibility back. If there isn’t enough there to be a full-time job or a permanent job, then look at what chronically ill people have to offer.”
But actually we'd like to clarify that it can be applied not also to those chronically ill, but to anyone who needs and can give flexibility back, including moms and housewives.
6. Computer Weekly announces the Most Influential Women in UK Tech 2019
Each year, Computer Weekly announces the list of the Most Influential Women in UK Technology, an accolade which in 2019 was awarded to CEO of industry collaborative Tech Talent Charter, Debbie Forster.
The list of the Most Influential Women in UK Technology is designed to showcase and make accessible some of the female role models doing great things across the technology sector.
As well as the top 50, Computer Weekly also announces entrants to its Hall of Fame, women who have made a long-term contribution to the technology sector.
Several Rising Stars are selected alongside the top 50 and Hall of Fame, usually for their growing contribution to both the technology sector and the diversity in technology agenda.
This year’s Most Influential Woman in UK Tech, Debbie Forster, said: “[This is about] making things better for everyone. If we want to build places that are inclusive, we have to lead and show what inclusion means.”
8. WISE calls out tech industry for slow approach to equality
Each year the WISE awards showcase male and female role models who are using science, engineering and technology in an innovative way to shape the future.
At the 2019 ceremony, the chair of WISE, Trudy Norris-Grey, stated that while science and engineering have “sped past” WISE’s goal to have one million women in science and engineering by 2020, the tech sector is lagging behind.
Norris-Grey then called on those in the room to come up with ideas to push forward the technology sector’s progress when it comes to diversity and equality.
9. A third of LGBTQIA+ people in tech believe there is a wage gap
A lack of gender equality in the tech sector is not the only discrepancy to be found when looking at industry data.
Research by Hired found a third of LGBTQIA+ people working in the technology sector believe there is a wage gap between themselves and heterosexual people in the industry.
The study also found tech is predominantly white – 3% of tech sector workers are black, 6% are mixed race, 17% are Asian.
10. More women expected to join tech sector in 2020
Despite a lack of progress when it comes to women in the technology industry, change is predicted to come within the next year.
Research by travel booking platform Trainline rounded off the year by finding many people expect the number of women in tech to increase in 2020.
Investment in technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), and adoption of more agile behaviour in tech teams were also predicted for the next year.