Balancing out: Why we need Women-focused Tech Opportunities
In March 2021, Kuda, a microfinance bank in Nigeria announced an internship position for women-only on Twitter and the majority of the responses to the tweet were absolutely ridiculous. Many people – men and women alike – were angry that men were “being left out” of such a major opportunity to enter and excel in the workplace. But this was simply not true.
According to statistics from all over the world, there is a huge imbalance between men and women in the tech industry. This is because the tech industry is male-dominated. It wasn’t always like this. According to the National Bureau of Statistics, women make up on average just 22% of the total number of engineering and technology university graduates in Nigeria each year.
Women were well-represented in the early days of computing, where they were made to work on computer calculations and coding because of the lack of labour resources.
Early programmers were women as programming was assumed to be a low skill clerical function, and the women who excelled at computing were not recognized for their contributions to science and technology. Young girls who had an interest in coding were discouraged from venturing into tech because of a lack of role models and a misunderstanding of who could work in tech and who couldn’t.
This continues to happen because there are not enough women in tech role models for young girls to look up to. A male software engineer at Google said, in a leaked memo, that “women’s stronger interest in people might make them less naturally suited to being coders at Google” and that women might need to prove their biological aptitude for working with computers. This kind of discrimination is why it is the year 2022 and the percentage of women in tech has not increased.
Some tech organizations will refuse to hire women engineers or software programmers because they believe that women won’t have time to code as they have to care for their immediate family. Some tech organizations hire women and they are not paid as much as their male counterparts.
According to the National Girls Collaborative Project (2018), women make up half of the total U.S. college-educated workforce, but only 28% of the science and engineering workforce. Another fact is a self-reported data from Statista in 2020, which concludes that women made up 28% to 42% of the GAFAM (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft) workforce.
Statistics from Anita Borg and Telle Whitney data show that in 2020, women made up 28.8% of the tech workforce.
Why do we have fewer women in tech? There is a big disparity between the college degrees earned by men and women in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). According to the National Girls Collaborative Project, In 2015, women received more than half of the bachelor’s degrees awarded in the biological sciences, but far less in computer sciences (18%), engineering (20%), physical sciences (39%) and mathematics (43%).
This stereotype goes back to the early 80s when home computers were marketed as gaming toys for boys and girls were encouraged to focus on dolls and knitting. It is a cultural stigma that most people, even teachers in education, struggle to let go of. Researchers at Cornell University found that male students in high school were more likely than female students to take engineering (21% versus 8%) and enrol in AP computer science A (77% vs 23%). The study also revealed that gender differences were a major influence on high school students’ career decisions when asked where they saw themselves at age 30.
Among high school senior boys, 26% planned to enter STEM or Biomed occupations, compared with 13% of girls, and 15% of girls planned to enter nursing or similar health occupations, compared with 4% of boys. This has a large effect on gender equality in STEM outcomes in college. A study among Croatian primary school students illustrated that stereotypical beliefs that STEM school subjects are more suitable for boys than for girls were more strongly endorsed by boys than by girls. The skills gap is only going to get wider if the educational system still allows school books that promote gender roles and career delineations to be read in schools. Misinformation about what gender should take tech and science courses will discourage girls from enjoying tech subjects. Schools should focus on creating syllabuses that encourage young girls to choose subjects based on their interests and guide them on their chosen career paths.
The opportunities men – and women – claim are being taken away from men actually exist to right the wrong by encouraging more women to take on roles in the tech and science industry. This is why tech workplaces like Kuda would put a call out for internships and invite-only women to apply. It is important that tech organisations like Google and Microsoft create a culture of inclusivity, and diversity, and enforce a support system for women in tech. Schools must represent girls and boys equally in science and tech.