Women In Technology – 4 Things You Need To Know

Knowledge is power.
And us women could definitely do with a whole lot more of it when it comes to the tech industry.
Some of this information came as a huge surprise to me, some of it was far from a revelation.

All of it is worth knowing.

1. The World’s First Computer Program Was Written By A Woman

Maybe an obvious place to start.
But not everyone knows this, and the more people do then so much the better.

It was Ada Lovelace and it was in the 1840’s.
Ada had a life-long fascination with machines. With plenty of encouragement from her extremely supportive mother, Ada received an excellent education in Science and Maths.
By her teens, Ada had already forged a friendship with Charles Babbage and developed a particular interest in his Analytical Engine. Infact, it was Ada herself who recognised that this machine had potential beyond pure calculations.
She spent the best part of a year (1842 -1843) working on expanding the existing mechanical notes. This led to the first ever algorithm for implementation on a computer being written an subsequently published.
Her work was ground breaking.
Sadly Ada died of uterine cancer only a few short years later, aged 36. The Analytical Machine was never built and her program was never tested.
Who knows what she would have achieved had she lived to a ripe old age?

Image from Wikipedia.

Her mathematical achievements led to the advent of Ada Lovelace Day in 2009; an annual event to celebrate women who work in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM).
It exists to raise the profiles of these women, create role models and hopefully encourage more young girls into these subjects.
It is absolutely worth noting that Ada herself had a role model and mentor in the form of science writer Mary Somerville. Dubbed ‘The Queen of Nineteenth Century Science’, Mary was a huge inspiration to Ada, introducing her to Charles Babbage in the first place.
Everyone can benefit from having a mentor, but when it comes to girls and learning STEM subjects, it couldn’t be more vital.
Which leads nicely onto fact #2….

2. Only 7% Of Those Taking Computer Science A Level Courses Are Girls. And Just Half Of Those Girls Will Go On To Work In Those Areas

A truly tiny amount.

What are the figures?
Research conducted by MyTutor, as part of the UK Government’s Year of Engineering 2018 initiative, found that only 25% of graduates with a core STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Maths) degree were women and a minute 13% of those working in STEM occupations are women.
These figures are stagnating despite all the projects which aim to increase interest in young girls and women, as well as female grades in STEM subjects being on a par with, sometimes even better than, male grades.

Why are all these talented women turning their backs on a profession where they could excel?
The Answer?

Negative Stereotypes.
That common and destructive perception that suggests girls are ‘less equipped’ for scientific roles.
And then of course, there is the general lack of female role models for young women in STEM.
It’s hard to find a female voice when they are so few.

Miriam Posner, who is Assistant Professor in the Digital Humanities program at the University of California, wrote an article for The Guardian in which she makes a valid observation about stereotypes.
She argues that in the context of web development there has become a division of roles and specialities between the front and back ends of the web.
The Front-End Developers design and implement what is displayed in the web browser.
And the Back-End Developers do the ‘behind-the-scenes’ programming.
There are Full-Stack Developers too, but we’ll leave them out of this particular discussion.

Posner writes:

“Back-End Developers often attribute front-end expertise not to mastery but to alchemy, wizardry or magic. Its adepts don’t succeed through technical skill so much as a kind of web whispering: feeling, rather than thinking, their way through a tangle of competing styles – in other words, those soft fuzzy things that women are supposed to excel at. ”


“On the back-end, developers (more often “engineers”) are imagined to be relentlessly logical, asocial sci-fi enthusiasts – bearded geniuses in the Steve Wozniak tradition.”

I can only speak from my own experience, but the stereotypical image of my fluffy lady-brain was so deeply entrenched in my psyche that I was 33 before I even had the confidence to start learning HTML.

Interestingly, Posner also notes that there now seems to be an incidence of women devaluing certain job roles simply by occupying them.
There certainly is. Which takes me to fact #3.

3. Women In Tech Can Earn Up To 28% Less Than Their Male Counterparts

So far, so unsurprising.
The Tech sector is no different to any other when it comes to pay disparity.

But it’s well worth knowing what we are up against:

  • The smaller the company, the larger the gender pay gap.
    Companies with 1-10 employees were found to have the biggest, paying their female employees 28% less.
    Companies with 250+ employees fared a little better with a 19% gap.
  • The ratio of women to men averages at 3 in 10 whatever the business size.
  • The type of role influences the overall pay difference.
    Product Management is the clear winner with only a 3% gap.
    Business Development falls very short with a 27% pay gap.
  • When it comes to tech start-ups, just 23% are founded by women.
    And of the large proportion founded by men, just 68% have no women on their board of directors.

There is no way of sugar-coating that women working in technology are massively under-represented and grossly underpaid.
It’s infuriating.
But I’ve not even got to the most infuriating part yet.

4. Women Are Better Coders Than Men. But Only If Their Gender Is Kept Secret

That’s right.

The study is nearly two years old now, but I doubt that we’ve made leaps and bounds in progress here.
Using GitHub, it was easy to analyse the submitted proposed changes to software. And, it was the women who had their code accepted more often than men.
Despite making up a very small fraction of the GitHub community, women were having 79% of their requests accepted, compared to just under 75% for men.

But what happened when when their gender was identifiable?
Their submissions were rejected more often.
Infact, the approval rate dropped by 10% once their gender was apparent.

It’s hard not to feel enraged.

This guy doesn’t know it yet, but he is so dead.

But it’s not all bad news – the study found that women out-performed men in EVERY SINGLE CODING LANGUAGE.
That tiny percentage of women in tech are kicking some serious ass.

And so…

There is work to be done that’s for sure.
The coding camps for school girls and companies like Mums In Technology all help.
It’s overwhelmingly clear that #ThisGirlCan code.
The obstacle is not ability or lack of interest; it is the negative stereotyping and the gender bias.
It’s really old and boring news now so let’s change the narrative.

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