For the first time ever, Google, Twitter and Facebook have released diversity figures – and they’re not great. Women fill 17% of tech roles at Google, 15% at Facebook and 10% at twitter. As a Facebook statement said, there is definitely “more work to do – a lot more.”
It’s clear – there aren’t enough women in tech.
Over the past few years the call for girls and women to become more involved in technology has mushroomed, with media attention and events promoting female participation in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) at an all time high. So why is there still a huge dearth of women in the industry and why aren’t things changing faster?
The problem starts at school. Despite the fact that girls outperform boys at all levels of education- from Key Stage 2 right up to degree level – most girls perceive tech careers as for men and drop out of STEM subjects. Less than 4% of girls are choosing A Level physics compared to 20% of boys, and 10% of girls who achieve an A* in maths GCSE go on to study A level maths (it’s 25% for boys). There is a stubborn self perpetuating cycle whereby schoolgirls associate the tech world with men and thus it continues to be male dominated.
But what about the women who do work in tech? Many talk about sexism being ingrained in the industry and find it’s a struggle to progress. “Women have to push harder to get where they want to be,” said Phoebe Wiseman, a digital imaging technician. “There are around three women to every 40 men doing the same job. There’s an expectation that women aren’t as technically minded. I compare it to skateboarding as a kid – because you’re a girl you stand out and people judge you. Another boy on a skateboard wouldn’t be given a second glance,” said Wiseman.
She has had colleagues whistle at her, make sexist remarks and send unwanted flirty text messages. Ailina, CEO of Women Who Code has had similar experiences. “Little things happen every day, like small comments about your appearance.”
With tech now ubiquitous, diversity is not only vital from a moral perspective – it’s also the only way that the UK will keep afloat in the global marketplace. Forty-two percent of employers currently report having difficulties recruiting staff with these skills, even though there are currently 2.4 million women not in work who say they want employment.
“As the first generation to have grown up with the internet, young people – girls and boys – have natural digital skills at their fingertips that other people simply don’t,” said Ann Pickering, head of human resources at O2. “For these people to be excluded from the digital sector isn’t just a shame, it’s dangerous. If we don’t do more to encourage young women and girls to get into digital, we’re going to lose out on the potential of an entire generation of women – all of whom have the very skills our economy needs to grow.”
Progress is being made, albeit too slowly. Campaigns and groups likeYour Life, Geekettes ,Women Who Code and Young Rewired State, are helping women and young people to gain skills and confidence, and in September the UK will become the first G20 country to include computing and coding in the curriculum from primary school.
Releasing diversity figures is also a step in the right direction. Becoming transparent, acknowledging failings and committing to change through real action is a vital part of transforming the culture of tech.
But so is the importance of instilling confidence in girls from an early age, and proving that no industry is off limits.