It is well accepted within the tech sector that there is a diversity crisis – the Harvard Business Review has acknowledged that 50% of women working in STEM fields will eventually leave due to hostile work environments. The House of Lords has a better gender diversity profile than the entire tech industry and no major tech company has anything close to gender parity. With girls making up less than 10 per cent of students taking A-level computing, it’s hard to envisage radical change happening any time soon.
Despite some great conversations taking place, and a number of initiatives across the sector, there is no settled consensus on what to do to make it easier for women to feel at home working in tech.
Due to this lack of diversity, young people in the industry have a shortage of obvious female role models. The world’s first programmer, Ada Lovelace, was female but nowadays the likes of Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk etc. are the face of an all-male industry. Through film, media and popular culture the industry is presented with an almost exclusively male identity, an Alpha Male culture involving burning the midnight oil and beers with the lads. This is off putting to many people and it’s not surprising that women might think this isn’t a career for them. After all, as tech entrepreneur Sherry Coutu, says, “If you can’t see it, you can’t be it.”
At a time when tech continues to reel from a crisis of sexism (see recent problems at Google, Uber, and UploadVR, for example), improving gender balance has added urgency. It may not be an easy shift, but having more women within the tech industry will ultimately create role models for aspiring generations of women looking for a challenging career.