Computer technology is pervasive in our daily lives, and it has become integral to all aspects of society. Did you know that women played an important role in the early development of computers? In fact, the first computer programmer was a woman and her name was Ada Lovelace. She worked on Charles Babbage’s analytical engine in the 1800’s. Also Rear Admiral Grace Hopper invented the compiler in the 1950’s which essentially is a translator to enable humans to talk to computers. These were groundbreaking moments in our technology history.
Despite this, women continue to reject the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) industry as a potential career path. Even though the United Nations (UN) Commission on the Status of Women argues that mainstreaming a gender perspective in technology and innovation enhances social and economic equity.
While efforts are being made to expand access to ICT across the globe, the UN argues that “far less attention is being paid to the extent to which women and gender concerns are shaping the regulatory and policy environments that will ultimately determine the utility and relevance of these technologies. The strategic challenge today is to ensure not only that both women and men benefit from the opportunities presented by new ICT, but also that new ICT are used to support greater socioeconomic, scientific and political equality”. Even with unprecedented demand for qualified computing workers, there has not been a significant uptake of females to fill this need. But why is this really a problem that needs educators urgent attention?
As this table highlights, the technology we use every day needs to be built by teams that represent the diverse nature of our society. If we want our current and future technologies that are more increasingly embedded in our daily lives than ever before to be innovative and creative, then we need a more diverse ICT workforce. To get this, we need to encourage girls to participate.
Last year, Silicon Valley tech giants released the diversity breakdown of their workforce. Google came first, admitting that only 17% of their technical workforce are women. Twitter’s figures came later reporting only 10% of their technical workforce are women. It is clear that these figures do not represent their user base (ALL females I know use Google), and the values and behaviours of the users they do represent are unconsciously embedded in the technologies they create.
If you are still wondering why this a problem, consider the following example. Domestic violence has a devastating effect on our society, and has long lasting consequences. The 2015 Australian of the Year Rosie Batty has experienced this first hand, and she just announced the release of an mobile app to help educate and support young women about domestic violence. It is designed to “empower young women and help them understand the warning signs of abusive and controlling relationships”. Not surprisingly, the app was developed a young woman, Katherine Georgakopolos. It was through Katherine’s experience with a female friend in a domestic violence situation that she felt compelled to develop this app. Her values and experiences were embedded in her design of the technology. This is not to say that men will not have these experiences, but domestic violence is a situation women are far more likely to find themselves in then men. It is a situation that can significantly benefit from a uniquely female perspective. It is reasons like this that we need more girls to study STEM subjects, and to be encouraged to pursue a career in ICT.
Dr Jenine Beekhuyzen is an Australian tech entrepreneur. She is the CEO of Adroit Research, the Founder of the nonprofit Tech Girls Movement, and is a University lecturer in Information Technology. She inspires school girls into STEM careers through free books celebrating the female tech role models in our society. To order free copies of Tech Girls Are Superheroes, visit www.techgirlsmovement.org and www.techgirlsaresuperheroes.org.