Role Models: The key to inspiring tech women
Posted by: Simon Falconer 6 Jul 12 - 4:24PM
It has long been known that there is a shortage of women within the IT industry. In the UK females only account for 19% of the IT industry workforce. As opportunities within the field continue to grow, so does the shortage of skilled and talented professionals. To counteract this increasing gap within the market, companies urgently need to raise female representation to help business and industry growth.
Over the past year the shortage has become such a concern that the issue has reached the European Parliament where as part of the digital agenda, an appeal has been launched for the digital world to take notice of women in technology. Vice-president for the digital agenda at the European Commission, Neelie Kroes argues that “to truly achieve its potential, the internet and the digital world has to be more inclusive of the talents, interests and the buying power of women”.
As demand for skilled technologists is expected to soar over the coming years so will the opportunities for women to enter successful careers within the industry. However, to resolve the current shortfall the industry needs to look at the root of the problem and why many young women choose alternative careers. The stereotype of the IT worker, often male, introverted and scientific, can create the perception of an industry which is no place for females. As a result of such perceptions, young females in school are drawn to other university subjects and careers.
However, there is hope in changing perceptions, and according to Kroes this lies in female role models. “The more girls see other women doing great things with ICT, who are positive about ICT, who show that ICT careers are exciting and exuberant – then the more they will be inspired to join in” she points out. Kroes is not alone in her thinking. Vice President of Location and Local Services at Google, Marissa Mayer, in her Huffington Post interview last summer also argued that the “most important thing we can do to increase women in tech is to show a multiplicity of different role models”.
With media role models such as Mayer, Flickr Founder Catarina Fake and Padmasree Warrior of Cisco Systems already speaking out about their experiences of working within the tech field, a movement towards inspiring more women is already in motion. Role models also need to be seen on the ground level however, where they can have a direct influence on young women. Many leading thinkers believe introducing more ICT female teachers in schools and universities will be an important way to shatter the current stereotypes and show the industry as being innovative, creative and female friendly.
In addition, leading female figures need to be awarded and celebrated within the industry. In the UK, awards dedicated to women within the industry are helping to raise the profile of role models and female representation. The CWT everywoman in Technology Awards recognises the achievements of women within the technology field and new in 2012, the Wise Awards now has a dedicated award for inspiring young women in technology.
It is important for organisations themselves to take responsibility for helping to change perceptions within the industry by developing their own female role models. By founding careers paths to help women move up the ranks into more senior positions companies can help change the stereotype of an all male industry. As these perceptions change younger women will be inspired to study computing and enter a career in the field, helping to bridge the current gender gap.