By Amy Boyce
It almost goes without saying that the lack of women in computer science, and STEM subjects as a whole, is a large problem. In order to begin trying to ‘fix’ what may seem to be the impossible, it is imperative to revisit the place in which arguably, it is introduced. During my time at high school, I was one of very few girls in my computing classes, amongst an abundance of boys. I consider myself to be extremely lucky; my teachers were incredibly supportive and have undoubtedly helped me to reach where I am today.
Having a female teacher to look up to, and a very supportive male teacher has undoubtedly been essential in enabling me to pursue a career in technology. They introduced me to articles on women pioneers in the field, educated me to the opportunities available, and simply showed confidence in my abilities. However, I recognise the advantage that I had. This is not the case for nearly enough girls, and undeniably the birthplace of this inequality.
A ‘high school’ mentality and environment plays a salient, yet almost subconscious role in ensuring that men are a majority in STEM classes. A scarcity of female computer science teachers is a silent reminder of the male dominance in the industry. It sets the scene for an environment where young girls feel alienated from the outset. The classic secondary school mindset of wanting to ‘fit in’ pushes young impressionable girls into humanities subjects where role models are in abundance. The computer scientist stereotype, as presented in almost every teen-targeted movie, is a nerdy boy in a hoodie, placed in a dark room facing screeds of intimidating matrix-looking code. Almost the polar opposite of the glamourous, sociable, and dependent females which, women are systematically taught to idolise from a young age. The damaging combination of this stereotype presented to a young audience in the media, and the influence this plays on the psyche of teen girls, is arguably the origin of the gender gap which continues to pervade the tech industry.
Fortunately, there are a variety of ways in which individuals, schools, organisations, universities and companies are trying to combat this at an early stage. Victoria’s Secret Angel Karlie Kloss left her position as a model after recognising that it was not the message she wished to send to young girls about beauty. Instead, she went on to study computer science, and consequently created ‘Kode with Klossy”. An organisation which benefitted greatly from her popularity amongst young girls to provide them with free workshops and opportunities in technology. Some teachers are going the extra mile to ensure that girls are supported, encouraged and recognised within their classes, building female pioneers into their lessons, and allowing girls to build the self-confidence they need to seek higher education and careers in the field. Moving forward, all educators should be encouraged to do similarly, as the effect is unquestionably immense. Schools can support their teachers by encouraging them to extend this type of support and using ‘positive action’ to provide role models, and also surroundings where girls can feel confident, and no longer part of a minority. Organisations such as dressCode, and Code First Girls are addressing the gender gap by empowering women, developing their skills and providing links to some of the top tech employers. Big companies such as JPMorgan and Morgan Stanley frequently hold day-long courses and events focused at high-school age girls, hoping to inspire and motivate them to consider applying to courses, apprenticeships and jobs in technology. Additionally, companies such as Bloomberg are offering internships and programs aimed at women, providing them with invaluable experience and allowing them to network.
In short, we need to ensure that we are not only fighting the gender gap; but preventing the male-dominated stereotype of the industry from the outset. By pushing for more support in schools, encouraging girls to feel reassured, accepted and inspired in their classes, we can change the industry’s entire dynamic. Unfortunately, this is a gap seen across all STEM subjects. While there is evidently still a long way to go, one can start to glimpse technology becoming increasingly inclusive with the rise of ‘positive action’ and students, educators, professionals and leaders becoming passionate about the campaign.