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#Breakthebias

Insight Published on 03 March 2022

We can only imagine what it would be like to live in an equal world.

An inclusive world where stereotypes don’t exist and, instead of discriminating against, we all celebrate diversity and differences. On the 8th March 2022, women from around the world will mark ‘International Women’s Day,' a day that celebrates the social, economic, cultural, historical and political achievements of women around the world, and ultimately promotes women’s equality. Each year has a different theme and the theme for the campaign this year is #BreakTheBias, focusing on a world that is free of bias, stereotypes and discrimination, which collectively makes it difficult for women to move ahead.

The connection between inequality and technology

Many people may be surprised to learn that 200 years ago, Lady Ada Lovelace wrote the first computer programme, which was based on algorithms and that during WW2, it was women who operated the first computers. A few years later, in the 1960s, coding and computer programming was actually considered “women’s work”, a tedious job which was comparable with knitting and cooking, in fact, an article at the time said if a woman enjoyed following cookbooks, she would undoubtedly make a good computer programmer! 

Computers were expensive and using women to advertise them gave the appearance to managers that jobs involving computers are easy and can be done with a cheap labour force. Technology historian Marie Hicks

By the 1970s, industries began to realise just how powerful computers were, and wanted them to be introduced at the management level; this was to the detriment of the women who already operated them, as they were often replaced by men.  The use of computers was now considered more of a strategic job and over time became increasingly viewed as ‘boy’s toys.'

Tech is too important to ignore

According to a recent Tech National report that investigated diversity in UK tech companies, only 19% of the tech workforce are women. When you consider that the UK economy is suffering from a digital skills shortage, this means that the businesses and organisations are missing out on a huge potential workforce.  

As women are generally underrepresented in technology, the challenge is to change the perception of what a career in technology offers, which in turn will bring diversity and help to deal with the tech skills shortage crisis. Efforts need to be focused particularly on the next generation and tackling the issue at a young age so that young people, and in particular girls, are aware of the array of career opportunities open to them.  Technology is constantly changing, and we need to move with it. 

 You don't know what's coming next, technology is like that. It is changing so rapidly. We need to be able to learn, we need to stay intellectually curious. because that which you are committed to today may actually sunset and something new will come nextJudith Rothrock, Client Partner and Vice President, Retail & Consumer Packaged Goods at HCL

The five ‘American world superpowers’, who rule the digital market and impact our daily lives, are Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft (GAFAM), and in 2020 it was revealed that only 25% of GAFAM employees were female. (Source: Statista). 

It was also reported in the same year, most men (63%) in technology considered their workplaces to be diverse, in terms of gender, however, only 47% of women agreed that this was the case, with 36% admitting they hadn’t seen anything to display any efforts to close the gender gap. (Source: TechRadius).  Another interesting fact revealed that only 37% of tech startups have at least one woman on the board of directors, in comparison to men which is 63%. (Source: sbv). 

Possible solutions to overcoming the gender gap

It’s not all bad though, there are many organisations out there who actively encourage women into STEM roles: ‘Women in Tech’, an international non-profit organisation, claim the gap has widened over the past forty years, with only 1 in 5 women employed in technology, but their aim is to change that figure with their mentoring programmes, which currently span six continents.  They believe that if young people are taught that women can and are successful in technology, it will encourage women to reconsider their career aspirations. 

As it stands, many women have admitted they feel they have to work much harder than their male colleagues to prove their worth in the company, but if schools and universities worked harder to promote STEM roles to younger people, more would graduate and progress into the workforce, ultimately reducing the gender gap.

Other suggestions have included publishing salaries within companies to remove suspicion, encouraging staff to speak out about gender discrimination and promoting mentorships for woman in tech to inspire them to consider these roles, and also support them throughout their careers.  Readdressing benefits such as working from home and flexible hours are also factors in attracting women into the industry.  It would also help if companies took the lead and actively aimed to employ a more appropriate percentage of women in their company.

Breaking the bias

Of course, not all companies have obstacles in the way for women and indeed there are some fantastic companies that have provided excellent experiences for women.  Whether it’s down to forward-thinking businesses or confident females working within those industries, it’s definitely a step in the right direction.

Diversity is good for everyone, research by Gartner shows that companies with higher levels of equal representation are more profitable and companies with at least one woman on the board of directors outperform those without any women by 26%.

Final thoughts

I want my children to grow up in a world where each and every single woman has a voice and is treated fairly. Over a hundred years ago, women took to the streets to protest the right to vote, ask for shorter working hours and better pay, and in 1918 women gained the right to vote in the UK although, 37yrs before that, women who owned property in the Isle of Man were given the right to vote. 

More than 100 years later, progress has been made, in terms of equality, but there is still a long way to go, particularly in professional jobs and salaries, and until there is a significant improvement, women around the globe will use their voices to be heard. Perhaps if women hadn’t been side-lined in computing all those years ago and had continued to play a big part and develop their careers, the gap in technology would be very different today.