I was fortunate enough last week to attend the International Women’s Day Networking Lunch in aid of the Women’s Fund at the Community Foundation. It was the second time I’ve attended this annual fundraising event, which is part of the many national and international activities organised to mark International Women’s Day (IWD).
When I last attended this event in 2013, I’ll admit I had never really come across it or the surrounding International Women’s Day campaign. Fast forward to now and what strikes me most is how much momentum has been gained for the cause in a relatively short space of time. This week, every news channel ran a feature or opinion piece focused on one or several inspirational women, or highlighting the huge discrepancies that exist in the rights women enjoy across the globe; even Facebook had an IWD banner I was encouraged to share to raise awareness.
Inevitably, the day’s increased profile has also given rise to growing debate as to its value, and concerns heralded by critics range from it being ‘unnecessary’ to the risk of encouraging positive discrimination and the potential damage that may cause. The same debate rages on in the world of STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths), where women make up less than 13 per cent of the workforce. And in software the statistics show the female workforce is only eight per cent.
Don’t play the blame game
However, it’s simply too easy to lay the blame at the door of the software industry, accusing it of discrimination, whether conscious or unconscious. It’s also wrong to perpetuate the myth that women are generally less talented, capable or interested in the field, even if that’s what they themselves believe. Worryingly, recent research revealed 60 per cent of girls are put off studying STEM subjects as they perceive them as too difficult. But it was refreshing to see the tech sector being particularly active on social media this IWD.
It's reassuring and perhaps a little perplexing that prejudice isn’t what the growing number of women in our technical roles at Scott Logic tell us they’ve experienced in their software careers so far. Rather, the lack of a gender balance exists due to the assumptions and cultural pigeon-holing that continue to take place in wider society.
The sad truth is that we are all placed into our own identifying little boxes on the basis of crude categorisations including gender and sexuality, even in some cases before we’re born. Think about whenever you have filled a form in. We are all easily shoehorned into these simple patterns of ticked or unticked boxes, and these permeate every aspect of our culture, from what we wear to the subjects we study and the jobs we do. Doors are closed for us before we’re even aware of them. The sitcom The IT Crowd is testament to some of these stereotypes. Even the ads we see online are rigidly targeted according to age.
We’re all waking up
While it’s clear that there is still some way to go before society truly accepts and implements diversity, we are all becoming more conscious of bias. Slowly but surely, parents, schools and the media are waking up to the language they use, advice they give and opinions they have that can have such a huge influence on children, not least girls when choosing their future career path. Gradually, this will ensure the same opportunities to enter STEM fields are open to all, and that encouragement into those opportunities is equally shared regardless of gender.
Businesses must also play their part to attract a broader range of people into considering one of the many varied roles software can offer. And this doesn’t just mean at the point of sale. Employers must work with schools, colleges and other relevant bodies to ensure this ‘attraction’ work begins from an early age, and that the gender-based conditioning that has resulted in such a male dominated industry is confined to the history books.
At Scott Logic, we are passionate about this, hence our ongoing involvement with the Lovelace Colloquium, a one-day conference for undergraduates organised by BCSWomen, a branch of the British Computer Society, the Chartered Institute for IT, which we’ll be attending on March 31st. The event honours Ada Lovelace, who is commonly regarded as the first computer programmer, and we’ll be there in an effort to attract some talented engineers and doing our bit to #pushforparity.
We hope to see you there!