Women make up just 14.4% of all people working in STE(A)M in the UK (The Guardian, March 2018). We have a keen interest in this subject as our Founder and MD, Anne Cantelo, led research and change programmes back in the early noughties and today we work with some of the leading female pioneers. What was said back then and what is being said now? Why is there a problem? Have we learned anything over the last 20 years? And why does it matter?
In October 2018 a tweet by @Tech_Talks stated that:
It’s certainly a point to consider and one that inspired us to write this blog. How is it that in the 21st Century, girls are still afraid they won’t be considered equal in the workplace to men? The first ever programmers were actually women but somehow it has become a male dominated profession. Research shows that girls lose interest in technology when they reach puberty (between 10 and 14), the age when they become aware of their image, and too many see getting involved in STE(A)M as ‘unfeminine’, so good role models are key to dispel this notion (see below).
Back in 2003, when Anne was the project director of the Image 3 Impact Programme, designed to get more girls interested in science and technology, she told The Times:
“The problem is that everyone has this image of an IT professional as being the man in the office who fixes everyone’s computers, but there are many more IT careers than that. We need to encourage more women into IT by addressing the male geek image.”
It has been proven that creative technology workshops, tech days, particularly in robotics and AI, are well received by children and a huge percentage of them come out excited about the possibilities of technology, girls included. By making workshops creative and hands on, rather than just technical, girls are more likely to enjoy the learning process.
Anne explained to the Parliamentary Select Committee why this was so important:
“Men and women interact with technology very differently. I am not saying one is superior or inferior but there is a big difference. That means that if you only have one gender going into it, then it is very difficult for the industry to be competitive and to recognise the way women interact with technology.”
Without women, technology is designed by men, for men.
This point was put in the spotlight in October 2018 when it emerged that the AI recruitment machine being tested by Amazon had become biased towards men. The machine has now been scrapped but we have to look at what’s going on in the working world and hold the developers (all of whom were men) of this kind of software to account to stop this happening again.
Anne’s research on the subject showed that one of the problems is that University courses in IT are of less interest to women as they offer pure IT rather than the creative side of IT.
“What is really needed is to have purposeful IT courses in fields such as music and magazine production, where creativity and technology go hand-in-hand, and which would be very attractive to women,” she said.
Nowadays there are far more courses like this, but girls don’t see them as IT courses, even though the work is very technology oriented.
Girls also need female role models that they can relate to. Inspirational figures in a given industry can excite young people into following in their footsteps so perhaps we need more female speakers going into schools and sharing their work in STE(A)M.
Check out these two leaders in educating girls in STE(A)M:
- Jill Hodges, Founder of Fire Tech, an initiative that offers after school courses and holiday camps to inspire and train kids to be confident technologists, creative thinkers and thoughtful leaders.
Jill tweeted in October:
“More role models and more hands-on experiences early on, to get girls excited about STE(A)M. With 50% female tutors, and lots of opportunities to create original, relevant, shareable projects, we’re doing our part!”
Follow Fire Tech on Twitter: @FireTechCamp
- Elena Sinel – Founder of Acorn Aspirations, who offer hackathons and boot camps for children to create innovative solutions to problems using technology and AI. Find Elena on Twitter @elena_sinel
And three ladies to keep a keen eye on if you’re after some inspiration:
- Jo Eckersley, Founder and CEO of geofencing technology company Bubbl, who has become a pioneer in mobile app technology – Find Bubbl on Twitter @Bubbl
- Caroline Thomas, Chief Strategist at digital passport leaders ObjectTech – Find ObjectTech on twitter @ObjectTech_Ltd
- Suki Fuller, analytical storyteller and Change Maker to Watch for 2018. – Find Suki on Twitter @SukiFuller
We all have a role in fixing this, particularly parents, teachers and the industry itself.