Women and Technology – A Major Challenge For The Future Of Work
Despite the fact that there are an increasing number of women gravitating towards STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) careers, the truth is that women are still underrepresented when it comes to careers in this field. A study commissioned by the European Union found that only 17% of people working in ICT (Information and Communication Technologies) are women. Those same women earn 20% less than their male counterparts. However, these low numbers are not indicative of low effort. Consistent effort has been made over the years to include more women in STEM. However, the numbers still are still woefully inadequate as women have not gravitated to or remained in ICT as hoped.
What is the problem?
Girls have traditionally performed well in school. However, when it comes to STEM classes girls quickly find themselves in unfamiliar territory. It is estimated that male students outnumber female students 82% to 17% in STEM classes, coincidentally, the greatest gender disparity in college courses.
Part of the reason for this disparity is how children are socialized. There is a ‘pinkification’ of books, toys, and even career paths, where girls are made to believe that some paths are destined solely for boys and others for girls. Although much of this has changed over the years, culturally, society still makes these representations towards girls. Thus, in spite of serious efforts being made from elementary all the way to college instruction, there is resistance when girls attempt to enter traditionally male fields, with invisible barriers being set by parents, teachers and others.
When women do take STEM classes, the disparity between men and women is cause for alarm among women. Accusations of sexism against peers and staff are common. Unsurprisingly, a survey conducted by The Guardian revealed that 73% of all tech workers believe that the industry is sexist. No doubt, numbers like these could further dissuade women interested in entering the field.
Why should more women get involved?
Technology is growing at a rapid pace and there will be a demand for more skilled individuals in fields such as AI, data analytics and software engineering. While it’s true that men will always explore careers in technology, this is not a solution to the problem. Women refusing to enter these fields represent lost opportunities. For one, they miss out on achieving what they are capable of. Additionally, they miss out on the higher paying jobs that these fields offer. Apart from this, ICT fields are deprived of the diversity that comes with including more women in the workplace.
This is not only a loss for companies looking to hire diverse people, but for society as a whole. Society benefits from diversity in all sectors. Diverse workforces are problem-solving ones. They are best suited at tackling the big problems faced by society, including the problems faced by women.
What is the solution to getting more women in ICT?
Including more women demands a multi-pronged approach. Here are four tactics that can be used to help women succeed in STEM and eventually ICT:
Eliminate classic stereotypes – Despite great efforts being made to disillusion children about classic stereotypes and gender roles, many inaccurate notions still abound. It is difficult to get rid of harmful stereotypes overnight, but it is possible. Eliminating them means getting help from parents and teachers. It also means reinforcing possibilities in movies, TV, music, books and other media consumed by girls.
Early exposure is key – Exposing girls to STEM helps remove both pre- and misconceptions about technology fields. Additionally, exposing them to mathematics and science from early will allow them to become more comfortable in the field. However this also means that the onus is on teachers and school administrators to create welcoming environments for girls. However, the flipside of adopting this attitude is the normalcy of boys seeing girls in their STEM classes.
Explain the benefits of STEM – While STEM programs have not cornered the market on difficulty, the benefits of sticking it out may not be as apparent to young students. Additionally, students may not be aware of all the careers STEM has to offer, especially the higher-paying ones. Of course money isn’t the only reason why someone decides on a career, but it does factor into the equation. This is why it is important that teachers show the opportunities that are available to students who stick with it.
Usher students into special programs – Apart from in-class learning, there are a number of special programs that may help deepen student appreciation for STEM. Programs like these help deliver hands-on learning in a welcoming environment.
As more opportunities in ICT open up, it is important that women are not excluded from the benefits of such. ICT offers many challenging but ultimately, rewarding career paths. However, the fact that women have been underrepresented in ICT careers is concerning and this may have a ripple effect for society as a whole. Both women and society will be poorer if their exclusion is allowed to continue.