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How Can We Create a More Gender Inclusive Computer Sciences Industry?

Posted by: Sammy Phillips

Women have played a key part in the computing industry and its rapid development as far back as the early 19th century. Female pioneers include Ada Lovelace, who is recognised as the first computer programmer and Joan Clark, who helped break the Enigma code by deciphering Nazi communications during WW2. As awe inspiring and intelligent as these women were, the modern day world of computer sciences is seeing fewer women following in their footsteps, and it’s only getting worse.

Despite drastically improved education and training being available over recent decades, women only make up less than a quarter of computing jobs in the entire world. Reasons for this seem to date back to when the personal computer was becoming available to the wider public, as well as the rise of the software industry in the 1980s, when men who had more access to math and science academia were considered best suited to take full advantage of computer sciences.

Another reason that the number of women in the computer sciences industry has decreased is due to the way computer and software industries are marketed. Although basic word processing programs were available, the first personal computers were essentially early gaming systems that firmly catered to males. Therefore the image of the “nerdy programmer” had been solidified, and computing sciences became less desirable to women. By the mid nineties, the number of women who chose to study computer science at a post graduate level had fallen to 28%. Nowadays, figures aren’t much better, with the percentage of women working in computer science related industries falling from 35% to 25% since the 1990’s.

The rise of Silicon Valley has played its part in the decrease of women getting involved in computer sciences too. Three quarters of the work force in Silicon Valley are male, and a large majority of women say they feel discouraged from entering the industry due to the “bro” attitude that is imported from college campuses.

When Maria Clawe, computer scientist and President of Harvey Mudd College, spoke at the Grace Hopper Celebration in Women in Computing Conference in 2014, she spelled out the three reasons women don’t get into technology. In her words: One, they think it’s boring. Two, they think they won’t be any good at it. And three, they wouldn’t want to be seen dead with the people who major in computer sciences. When Susan Wojcicki, CEO of YouTube spoke at the conference two years later, she confirmed Clawe’s statement. “I double checked with my daughter, and unfortunately these mis-conceptions were true. But all of us here in the room know that none of this is actually true. But perceptions drive reality. So let’s look at what is driving these misperceptions and how we can fix them.”
So, what can be done to prove these statements wrong, and increase the number of women entering a field in the computer sciences industry? Girls need to be shown from a young age, that computer sciences can be fun, and that they too, along with the guys, are capable of being good at it.

Girls Who Code, a non-for-profit organisation dedicated to closing the gender gap in technology, run classes in and outside of school, aimed to teach girls to not only code, but become inspired to work in technology and computer related industries. They also work to train schools on how to implement computer sciences into their curriculum. Initiatives like this will ensure that a future with more women in technology is not so far fetched.

As for the misconceptions about the people involved with the computer sciences industry, i.e. the “geeky computer nerd” persona, more girls need to be aware about the history of incredible women in the computer sciences industry, as well as the strong, intelligent role models that the tech industry has produced today. These role models challenge the media’s representation of the typical person that gets involved with the industry, and prove that technology is not inaccessible, uncreative or boring. By letting young girls know they have a place in computer sciences now, we are creating a stronger future for the next generation of women.

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