April 25th 2019 marked the International day for girls in ICT. This day, now a fundamental date in the UN’s calendar of international recognition, joins many in the fight for equal representation in the workforce. This year, to commemorate the date, thousands of individuals took part in social media campaigning, writing to MPs, workshops and spoke out about how this issue is important to them.
Pretty cool right? However, many still ask why there even is a need for this in 2019. Well, when we look at the tech industry in its totality, researchers time and time again have pointed out a rather significant gap in terms of gender representation when compared to other industries. Not only this, but when it comes to BAME representation, this gap is even wider.
Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths, otherwise known as ‘STEM’, suffers the greatest gap. Women currently make up 14.4% of people working in STEM in the UK, massively short of the 30% expected by the British Government (Gjersoe, 2018). Alongside this, nearly half of tech industry female leaders experience gender bias at work and when we look at how this affects BAME women, this figure only increases (Kim, 2018).
When we look at the younger generation, it is clear that this gap also perpetuates, outside of the workplace. In places of education, young girls consistently experience a persistent gender divide in STEM career choice. Studies say that half as many girls as boys are interested in app development and only a third as many are interested in computer game development. In some situations, as much as 40% of boys are said to show interest in STEM subjects compared to just 23% of girls (Haworth, 2017).
So why is this such a big deal? Well, for a start, if these statistics were more balanced we would see an estimated £2 billion increase in the UK’s labour value. And once more, if this was taken on by more industries globally, we would see an estimated increase of $28 trillion in GDP growth worldwide by 2025 (Abney and Laya, 2018).
Putting money aside, however, there are much more important reasons for wanting to achieve more gender parity for women in STEM. One of the biggest of these is purely the achievement of advancing new opportunities for women globally. Through advancing women’s ability to participate in STEM, the social and political landscape for women is opened further in a myriad of ways, life becomes more than just a choice between prescribed options. This is especially important when STEM jobs are set to become increasingly vital to the global workforce.
Another big reason for supporting women in STEM, is the possibility of bringing forward more intersectional women centred approaches, visions and innovations. The more women that exist in the STEM space, the greater the likelihood of inclusive decision making, active accountability and diverse representation. Although gender mainstreaming is not a fix-all solution to challenges such as sexism, racism and other discriminations, it does increase the opportunity to platform these barriers and increase the chances for discussion in these workspaces.
A final and more obvious reason for including women in STEM, is the opportunity to increase and contribute towards a more equal and diversely represented society in general. Increased diversity in representation will contribute to the goals of progressivism, which works towards a more fair and equal society. Whether the fight for equality is through fighting for inclusion, or through the systematic deconstruction of oppressive systems which hold exclusivist power in place; broadening gender parity in STEM can open up opportunities for true advances creating a more equal society.
So, what can we do to help? One of the biggest ways of increasing gender parity, is to tackle barriers within the workplace. Many in-fact cite this as currently the biggest barrier for women in STEM. Reshma Saujani, founder of ‘girls who code’, recently highlighted how, now more than ever, issues such as culture bias and discrimination are obstructing access for women, even more so than issues surrounding the STEM interest pipeline. There are now more women graduating in STEM than ever before and the numbers of girls interested from a young age continue to rise significantly year upon year. The problem now the limitations in recruiting these women, because of bias.
Another method of helping to support gender parity in STEM, is to encourage STEM subjects in young girls throughout school and tackle barriers within classroom such as STEM related stigmas or stereotypes. Traditional stereotypes that see girls as less technically savvy, can have a harmful impact on young girls who develop an interest in STEM related subjects from a young age. An awareness and method of tackling this in schools will serve as a basis for increasing gender parity.
An additional method is celebrating diverse women in STEM. Caroline Criado Perez in her 2019 book ‘Invisible women’, points out how history exhibits a strong data bias when it comes to recording women’s influence on the world. Women have been left out of the history books time and time again, and only a conscious inclusion of women’s efforts and achievements both retrospectively and currently, will help rebalance this.
If more of us act on issues which tackle gender parity in STEM, we will eventually see a society in which everybody has more opportunities to flourish.
D, Abney and A, Laya. 2018. This is why women must play a greater role in the global economy. [Online]. Accessed 14th May 2019. Available from: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2018/01/this-is-why-women-must-play-a-greater-role-in-the-global-economy/
J, Kim. 2018. Intersectionality 101: Why “we’re focusing on women” doesn’t work for diversity and inclusion. [Online]. Accessed 14th May 2019. Available from: https://medium.com/awaken-blog/intersectionality-101-why-were-focusing-on-women-doesn-t-work-for-diversity-inclusion-8f591d196789
N, Gjersoe. 2018. Bridging the gender gap: why do so few girls study Stem subjects. [Online]. Accessed 14th May 2019. Available from: https://www.google.com.hk/amp/s/amp.theguardian.com/science/head-quarters/2018/mar/08/bridging-the-gender-gap-why-do-so-few-girls-study-stem-subjects
R, Haworth. 2017. Girls in IT: What’s the problem and how can we fix it?. [Online]. Accessed 14th May 2019. Available from: https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/russell-haworth/girls-in-it_b_9792422.html?guccounter=1&guce_referrer=aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cuZ29vZ2xlLmNvbS8&guce_referrer_sig=AQAAAMt8KpVgFBWZKXMq2LaUEpNKLJzr0WNqrRxexfxencbwzgfkQso3_e7ZvCTxH2w-Mw6ZghezlzdoATbZYc3evcURiVcF8smH1sOmrayKqUWOJju5wqKC_mJeX10XDe5yAoetdIO1WkfSk-FEEndmMNcINEyn55FwKc7EHfWAvast