Technology has become an inherent part of our lives. Especially now, in these uncertain times, digital solutions actively shape the way we work, learn and interact with one another on a daily basis. With tech influencing our existence to such an extent, one can’t help but wonder: who are its creators?
The answer is: more often than not, men. In Europe, 80% of all ICT specialists are male, and the numbers are only slightly lower at the global scale. Most of the tech solutions that we use every single day are hence designed by men and, as it turns out, sometimes primarily with other men in mind.
This is not to say that male creators ignore the needs of the rest of the population. They’re not the big, bad wolf in this story – the lack of diversity is. Without representation and various perspectives, it’s surprisingly easy to extrapolate yourself as a “typical” member of society. We’re all guilty of assuming that everyone else thinks like us and needs exactly what we need, which, in most cases, is far from reality. The ICT sector is no different, and that’s why driving more diversity in the field is a must. How to start? Bring in the girls.
STEM is an all-gender club
Numerous studies show that girls do better at maths and science in the first years of school education, but it changes when they reach adolescence. How come? While boys are pushed by their parents and teachers to learn maths, get their hands dirty doing experiments, make inventions and build robots from an early age on, girls are often expected to focus on more “girly” activities. As a result, they often conform to common stereotypes and forego their scientific interests.
To turn this around, we ought to show to the girls that science is not a boys-only territory; that being into tech is cool and that a passion for STEM doesn’t take away from their femininity. We can make ICT far more exciting for them, e.g. by connecting the girls with female role models in tech, hosting girls-only coding classes and combining science and technology development with topics about which this young audience is already passionate.
One aspect that drives this discrepancy in numbers is the language that we use to address boys and girls. While boys are praised for being “smart”, “curious”, “adventurous”, we continue to complement girls primarily on being “beautiful”, “caring” and “kind”. It comes with little surprise, then, that girls are linguistically conditioned to prioritise and aspire to things other than scientific achievements.
It is up to us to challenge this narrative. If we want to bring more girls into STEM, we must start using a language that is rid of assumed gender roles and characteristics. To encourage curiosity, we must praise girls not for their appearance and pleasant disposition, but for their brains and the drive to explore.
The “future” talk
Technology is no longer the future – it’s the present. The labour market is already experiencing a pressing need for a broad range of ICT talents: there’s a growing gap between the digital skills needed by employers and the number of job seekers with the desired technical know-how. Moreover, the jobs of the future will change dramatically – research predicts that 65% of children entering elementary school today will have jobs that don’t yet exist. We can only deduce that the vast majority of them will be tech-driven.
So let us be loud and clear when we talk with girls about their future careers:
- Tech skills will most likely equal money. Taking into consideration the market demand trends, learning advanced tech skills will set girls up for economic independence.
- Advanced digital skills are a means for girls to follow their dreams. No matter for which career path a girl settles, technology will almost always be an inherent part of that journey. Knowing how to use it well will only be an added value and a way of facilitating professional growth.
- Advanced tech skills will not only allow girls to be functional in a tech-driven, modern world; they will also be able to shape that world themselves.
More women in the ICT sector is a win-win situation for everyone. It’s good for business growth; it’s good for women’s fulfilment and economic stability; it’s good for users whose technological needs might still not be 100% met. Of course, there are many significant initiatives that, just like Women4IT, empower young women to take advantage of technology and use it to push their careers forward. But to bring more female talent into the tech world, we have to start reaching out to women when they are still girls and do the work to convince them of technology’s ever-increasing potential. Only then can we ensure their equal participation in actively creating the future.
Author: Katarzyna Udała, DIGITALEUROPE
*Although this text presents gender in a predominantly binary way, Women4IT acknowledges that women and men are only part of the gender spectrum. Similarly, we acknowledge that gender is only one of the factors indicating diversity.