How IT could get more attractive for the female gender

June 11, 2019

Why are there so few women in IT? It’s a question I’ve been asked ever since I founded moinworld. Not even a tenth of the IT departments today are staffed by women. It should not depend on gender whether a person is able to help shape our digital future.

“Demand for skilled ICT professionals is growing: 90% of jobs require basic digital skills. As a new Commission study on “Women in the Digital Age” shows, more women in digital jobs could create an annual €16 billion GDP boost in the EU, not least by improving the start-up environment, as female owned start-ups are more likely to be successful. We know that growth would go up if women and girls had the same opportunities as men. But there’s so much more to the case for women’s equality than economic growth, and that is the social dimension. Gender equality is about fairness across society as a whole, and something from which everyone could benefit.“(Blogpost Europäische Kommission Roberto Viola, Women in Digital: more than numbers)

A discussion of the reasons is therefore important. I would therefore like to share my theses on this topic with you!

“No more boys and girls”

In my opinion, the problem starts very early: with socialization as a girl. In the family environment, girls are rarely encouraged to orient themselves in a scientific-technical direction. It is still accepted and subconsciously anchored in the minds of women themselves that “women and technology” do not belong together. “The low participation of women in the digital economy has complex and multifaceted roots. The main obstacles are gender bias and socio-cultural constructs, which at different life stages dissuade girls and women from taking up Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) studies and careers.” (European Commission, Strategy Digital Single Market April 2019)

By the way, there’s also a show on ZDF right now, which is similar to the series “No more boys and girls” already aired on the BBC. This documentary series also confirms that outdated role models are unfortunately not outdated. That they are still strongly internalized by primary school children in Germany. The links to both documentaries can be found at the end of this article.

Even in the school environment there are still teachers who often unconsciously let female pupils feel that subjects such as mathematics, physics, computer science etc. are “not for girls” and that a lack of talent in these subjects is natural for girls. Due to their socialisation, far too few women with diverse interests make their career choice dependent on the best career and earnings prospects. At our school project moinschool a suitable statement of a girl was “we are allowed to work too. Boys have to earn money.” Other women fear that studying computer science or electrical engineering would make them less feminine and less attractive.

At moinworld we have therefore created a further offer that ensures that girls come into contact with programming as early as possible. If you develop a passion for the subject from the age of five, you hopefully won’t get the idea later that you don’t have a talent for the subject. At the same time, we are active in schools with our moinschool program and ensure that schoolgirls receive computer science lessons and, at the same time, are informed about the power of subconscious misconceptions with an Unconscious Bias Training.

Too few women visible as role models

In addition, the current gender imbalance in information technology means that there are too few visible role models for girls who have started a corresponding course of study and career. Thus, women often do not perceive computer science as an attractive occupational field at all. That women have written the history of computer science and that software programming used to be a female job is hardly known to anyone. Mathematician Ada Lovelace, for example, is regarded as the founder of computer science. Grace Murray Hopper was the inventor of the compiler. It is quite exciting to study the history of software programming and to learn why programming suddenly became a subject of male nerds in history. I link corresponding sources below.

Deterred from nerd types

Which is another reason today why women stay out of the profession. Young women tend to be deterred by “nerd” types. Even though not all software engineers are nerds, computer science definitely has an image problem.

This is also confirmed in our workshops at schools. There is a clear idea of what the person who knows about computers looks like. To counter this and change the picture, we try to connect the girls with women from the industry and make them more visible. Whether it’s through the Instagram campaign currently underway, our summer camp where the girls come into contact with role models or our Youtube series about women in IT.

Your own performance is questioned - unconscious bias among HR professionals, colleagues and bosses

Once on the job, there are many companies that only communicate for image purposes that women are welcome in their company. Studies show that people tend to hire people who are more like them. In the tech industry this means: male, around 30, white - in corresponding management positions somewhat older, male, white. Women are often confronted with not getting their own achievements recognized. As an applicant, at first glance you do not fit into the picture of the desired candidates for an open position. In the male-dominated occupational field, colleagues also have the better network - and unconsciously exclude their colleagues.

What would have to change for more women to enter technical professions?

According to Yuval Harari, the most important ability in a future in which algorithms influence our lives is that we know ourselves. It also means that we know about our biases and their effects. It is a mistake to think that women and technology do not belong together. Without appropriate public discussion and clarification of these errors of thought, nothing will change and we will virtually give away talents that could compensate for the lack of skilled workers and increase innovation. An OECD paper summarises this as follows: “Greater inclusion of women in inventive activities is good not only for women themselves, but also for stronger economic growth and enhanced societal well-being. Inventions arising out of mixed teams, or women-only groups, appear to have wider technological breadth (and may therefore be more economically valuable) and higher impact than those in which only men are involved.”

Furthermore, the image of information technology must change. “The way in which technology, science and the digital industries are presented as a man’s world in the media, advertising and statements by high-profile figures does not help…” (Blogpost European Commission Roberto Viola, Women in Digital: more than numbers). The well-fed nerd cult of the outsider, who prefers to work quietly in his closet, is not very communicative and has few interests other than computers, is not helpful. Demanding IT jobs require creative personalities with good communication skills, tact and diplomatic skills, not nerds. We need people who can develop solutions for users together in a team.

Society must also ensure that girls of primary school age are already enthusiastic about the field of IT. Studies indicate that girls around the age of six lose self-confidence in their own gender and science competence due to their socialisation. It is therefore important that girls come into contact with the subject before they lose their self-confidence. This can and should also happen at school. However, computer science is still not offered nationwide as a school subject at all. Even if it is, it is often not a compulsory part of teaching. That in an age in which software determines our lives and is an essential medium of social participation and (co)design.

A working example of how the image of computer science can be improved are so-called hyphen computer science courses. The proportion of women in medical informatics is 44 percent. Courses of study must make clear what it is worth studying computer science for and what the opportunities are for studying computer science.

Anja Schumann

(translated from German)


Angebot für Mädchen ab 5 Jahre: lest mehr dazu hier

Mehr über unser Schulprogramm moinschool könnt ihr hier lesen.

Youtube Serie über Karrieren in der IT: link zu unserer Playlist

Studie der OECD Bridging the Digital Gender Divide

Vortrag zur Geschichte der IT

No more boys and girls: BBC (englisch)

No more boys and girls: BBC (deutsch)

Girls lose faith in their own talents by the age of six

Yuval Harari Youtube

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