It has been ten years since Ada Lovelace Day, the brainchild of technologist Suw Charman-Anderson, was first celebrated to highlight the achievements of the first computer scientist Augusta Ada King. It also serves to shine a light on women working in technology in the present day. DataIQ heard from several women working in STEM fields about the difficulties of working in the industry, what can be done to encourage more women and girls to enter the field and steps that can be taken to facilitate that.
In the UK women make up 16% of the 1.6m strong technology workforce, according to Honeypot. The situation in data is slightly better as according to Women in Data UK, where men scientists and analysts outnumber women four to one, meaning that women make up 20% of the data workforce.
Being in the minority can feel unsettling at times but Lori MacVittie, principal threat evangelist at F5 Networks suggests acknowledging and pushing through that discomfort as the best way to deal with it. She said: “Wherever you go, it’s likely that you’ll end up in a male-dominated environment and if that makes you uncomfortable then that’s OK.”
Despite the low proportions, it is important that workplaces in all industries are diverse because this leads to better products, better results and better returns. Janet Macmillan, senior user experience team lead at MathWorks said: “More women in tech means more diversity and creativity. Having female team members brings different perspectives, and ones that better reflect the people we serve. I work in a cross-functional team with both male and female colleagues. I’d like to think that the diversity has contributed towards the success of the team and the products we design.”
There is also the recognition that diversity is more than just about having women at the table. Diversity in relation to ethnicity, sexual orientation and able-bodiedness is also important as Esther Mahr, conversational experience designer at IPsoft stated.
She said: “It is absolutely critical that diverse groups develop, test and design the technologies that will transform our jobs, cities and services. Diversity not only means equal representation of gender, but also of age, geographical and socio-economic background and beliefs.”
Unfortunately, there is some resistance to women or people with caring responsibilities in the tech workplace. This was the experience of Joanne Warner, head of customer service at Natterbox. She said that after she had her second child, she felt that her gender became an issue at work.
“Some of my management and colleagues thought that my commitment and motivations within the workplace had changed. But this only made me even more determined to prove that work ethic is not defined by gender or children,” she said.
Warner’s experience makes it clear that all workplaces, especially in tech where women are underrepresented, need to make an effort to support and encourage parents of young children who return to work to ensure they feel valued and that their commitment is recognised. If not, many women may not return after maternity leading a brain drain of experienced professionals.
There is a lot of encouragement from the female tech professionals for other women to follow their lead and enter the industry although Karen Thomson, diversity and inclusion lead at Fujitsu UK and Ireland admitted that a particularly close role model had a strong influence on her career.
Her father was a lecturer in mechanical engineering and this meant that she saw the ideas he spoke of applied in a real-world setting. “Having a parent like that gave me a forum to ask questions, and I realised that I enjoy problem solving and I am interested in building practical things. That’s why I believe role models play an incredibly important part in shaping peoples’ lives.”
Many believe that role models are a deciding factor for many women in their choice to enter or stay in the tech industry. Jayne Stone, chief marketing officer at Vuealta said that although the number of girls studying STEM subjects is rising, there needs to be a continued effort to highlight role models and career opportunities. She said: “We need to make an active effort to work in collaboration with schools, colleges, parents and media to ensure girls can learn about these role models, and feel confident and equipped to study STEM subjects and hopefully, a career in STEM.”
Lindsey Kneuven, chief impact officer at Pluralsight and executive director of Pluralsight One calls for radical disruption to education and working systems to broaden participation across the genders. She said: “We must accelerate the pace of change to achieve gender equity and ensure the voices, expertise, power and perspectives of women are included to help shape the future.”
Kneuven also said: “We must eliminate the barriers that prevent girls’ participation, radically disrupt our education systems and hiring practices to ensure true inclusion, and inspire the next generation of talent to pursue their own promising STEM careers.”
With greater recognition of the importance of including all demographics of society as we move towards ever greater reliance on technology, there is a rallying call for women to take up the gauntlet and be part of this at times challenging but always rewarding industry.
MacVittie said: “STEM industries have a reputation for women struggling to be successful. Don’t be put off – if we want change, we need to be the forerunners.” Thomson stated that the opportunities for people with software engineering skills are numerous and more women need to take them."
According to Honeypot, female students make up 31% of STEM graduates. With sustained determination to change for the better both the perception of the industry before women enter the field and the experience of those already working in it, that 31% can look forward to developing innovations as part of a fulfilling career in STEM.
Ada Lovelace Day was celebrated on Tuesday 8th October.