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Women In Tech

Teams with equal numbers of men and women are more likely to experiment, be creative, share knowledge and finish tasks than teams of unequal genders.

Further to National Women’s Day on the 8th March, RWA delves into statistics to find that women are a minority in modern day tech. 

Despite the fact that women have always been instrumental in technology development, the February 2023 report by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) shows 505,000 women in the Information and Communications sector in 2022 which represents only 31% of the total tech sector workforce. 

This percentage has been slowly increasing, but women are still underrepresented in the UK tech workforce and tech leadership roles.

So, do women now have a general lack of interest in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) positions? Is there a bias inhibiting women’s success in these roles? Are there cultural elements causing the decline?

The Gender Gap

The gender gap in technology and data science has grown significantly over the last two decades, raising global concern about the state of open-mindedness of the information and tech industry. However, O’Reilly’s ‘Women in Data’ report - a book of interviews with today’s most prominent women in computing and data science - says that the growing awareness is slowly bringing more women into the field. 

Elsewhere. A survey by Bob Hayes of Business Over Broadway (B.O.B.) found that one in four data scientists are women, and they hold only 26% of all data professional positions. This tallies with RWA’s own experience in that women are less likely to apply for Software Engineering positions, favouring instead the likes of Software QA, data analytics, Product Management etc.

Although 57% of all bachelor’s degrees are earned by women, only 15% of computer science degrees are earned by female graduates.  

The disconnect between girls and STEM-related career paths happens during secondary school. 

There are a few reasons why this is the case:

Inherent Bias

The narrative from the early marketing campaigns is still used in many media forms today, usually defining a “techie” individual as a geeky computer-tinkering male. 

No Early Exposure

The lack of introducing computing skills, such as coding or programming, at an early age can cause a disconnect between initial interest in STEM related topics and choosing other subjects for career paths. Within the Women In Data interviews, many of the interviewees, like Carla Gentry, Camille Fournier and Hannah Wallach, said they believe early exposure to STEM and computer-related skills will help close the tech gender gap.

Confidence Issues

Not having confidence in skills and potential success can cause individuals to put limitations on themselves. Harvard conducted a one-year study on the gender gap in its computer science program. They found that, even with computers now being standard in households, 67% of the women in the program said they had one or fewer years of programming experience, compared to 41% of their male counterparts who said the same. 

It also found that women with eight years of programming experience are as confident in their skills as their male peers with zero to one year of programming experience. Internalized stereotypes can cause women to feel they don’t have the “right” knowledge or skillset for success in the field.

Female Role Models

A lack of female role models and gender inequality must also be factors. A recent PwC survey provides evidence for this:

  • only 22% of students could name a famous female working in technology, whereas 66% could name a famous male
  • only 5% of leadership positions in the UK tech sector are held by women 
  • only 16% of females have had a career in technology suggested to them, compared to 33% of males

Mentoring

Mentoring has had a large influence in closing the gender gap in tech and data science. In the Women In Data interviews, almost all of the interviewees mentioned a mentor that they relied on for encouragement to remain in the field, whether a supportive family member or a co-worker open to questions.

Startups

Successful tech start-ups have twice as many women in senior positions as unsuccessful ones. Craig Newmark, the founder of Craigslist, reported that tech companies led by women have an average of a 35% higher return on capital than those led by men. 

He also referenced a study stating that tech companies with female founders perform 63% better than ones with founding teams completely composed of men. Too, that a mixed-gender team is linked to more success for a company.

Ultimately, this is one of several compelling reasons why we need more women in computing and data science - to bring their skills and perspectives to the table for better performance overall. 

In ‘Women in IT: The Facts’, the NCWIT reported that teams with equal numbers of men and women are more likely to experiment, be creative, share knowledge and finish tasks than teams of unequal genders.