We need more women in tech. No arguing there. But how do we achieve it? Why do so few women study tech subjects at the university and why are even fewer working within the tech industry?
Are women not interested in tech? Or is there something else that explains the sorry lack of female voices in the industry? Research suggests that few women in tech have nothing to do with interest, but everything to do with gender bias and social norms.
“What we have found consistently, is that when we present women and men with exactly the same credentials, qualifications, and backgrounds for a job that is traditionally male, held by men in our culture, thought to require male attributes, we consistently find that the woman is seen as more incompetent than the man.”
– Madeline Heilman, Professor of Psychology at NYU
These biases are held by both men and women. We have very strong opinions of how women should be. Women are not supposed to tread into the male territory and a woman who crosses the line is not approved of. Women are seen as gentle and caring, attributes that are not associated with traditional male occupations. If a woman makes it in the male space, she’s seen as not feminine, cold and dangerous. A dragon lady.
In everyday life, we are constantly bombarded by gender biases. Some things might seem trivial, such as the male colleague who refers to the women in the workplace as girls, but all of these small remarks helps to solidify the notion that women are not equally competent. That they are not smart enough. That they are not cut out for the tech world.
All of us carry around a backpack filled with opinions of how men and women should behave. Most of the time we are not even aware of that we are expressing gender bias, we just consider it to be the general order of things. We need to consciously start thinking about what we say and why we say it. But it’s not enough to merely say it, we need to act accordingly as well.
The tech world suffers from being dominated by men. Their biases set the tone for the whole industry. Virtual assistants are given women’s names such as Alexa or Siri. The genius machines are given men’s names, for instance, Hal or Watson.
“The teams that are building this technology are predominantly young, white and male and they have these blind spots where they don’t even consider what biases they might perpetuate to the design of these systems.”
– Kate Darling, MIT Media Lab
We need to inspire girls to play around with tech stuff at an early age. Encourage them to play computer games and teach them how to code. Never ever tell them that they cannot do things simply because they are girls. But we have to act the same way too. Women tend to do most of the household chores, while the men are the ones that play computer games with the kids. Try to flip the coin. I believe that mothers are equally interested in playing games, they just never get around to it and they might need a bit more time to get the hang of it since they haven’t had as much practice as the fathers.
We also need to reassess our attitude towards household chores and stop the stigma of women who have decided that they’ve had enough, but that’s a topic for a whole other blog post.
For now, I conclude with a challenge to all you women out there: get into tech in one way or the other and become an inspiration to girls around you. Because if we don’t inspire the girls of today, there will be no more women in the tech industry of tomorrow and that will be a huge loss to the world.
PS. The inspiration for this blog post came from the excellent podcast, Hidden Brain. If you want to learn more about the science of human behavior, I highly recommend you give it a listen!