“Women don’t do tech because they’re fed different nutrients in the womb.”
That’s what one member of the Women’s Tech Hub was told by a male counterpart during a recent ‘game jam’ event, and while most people will be shocked to read such a statement, you may be surprised to learn how common these contentious views are within the tech world.
Indeed, in 2017, a Google engineer was sacked for writing an internal memo that stated: “The distribution of preferences and abilities of men and women differ in part due to biological causes and that these differences may explain why we don’t see equal representation of women in tech and leadership.”
He went on to suggest that women’s “stronger interest in people” coupled with their “neuroticism” renders them less suitable for a career in coding.
Thankfully, the search engine giant swiftly parted company with the controversial employee, citing a breach of their code of conduct and criticising the advancement of gender stereotypes. However, retrospective action doesn’t resolve the root issue.
The statistics make for strikingly imbalanced reading:
At both Google and Apple, only 20% of engineers are women
In the UK, of those studying GCSE computer science, only 20% are girls. At degree level, the figure drops to 16%
In the US, it’s a similar story, with only 18% of those majoring in computer science being female
Only 11% of executive positions in Silicon Valley are held by women
According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. 32% of women leave STEM jobs (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) within a year of entering the industry, compared to just 22% of men
So why, in 2018, a full century on from the suffragette’s first victory in securing women’s voting rights, is there such disparity in high-tech industries?
The absurd notion that it’s down to nature - women can’t cope with STEM subjects because their brains are wired differently - can be instantly dismissed by reviewing the status quo elsewhere in the world.
A survey of seven universities across the Middle East revealed that, on average, 50% of students enrolling onto computer science courses were women, with similar uptake reported in India and the Far East.
So the gender inequality seems a distinctly Western problem.
Traditionally, the Western world has portrayed working in tech as the domain of geeky guys, and computers have generally been marketed as ‘boys toys’.
This gender profiling has led to a somewhat unwelcoming stance, making it difficult for young women to seriously consider a career in STEM.
However, women make up half the world, so limiting your workforce by such an extent surely limits your ability to work successfully. A diverse team naturally means more diverse ideas, which are the very bedrock of progress.
Therefore, recruiting more women shouldn’t be regarded as a politically correct, ‘tick box’ activity to keep the liberal media happy; it should be a common sense exercise to stimulate growth.
Many companies scream, ‘We’d love to recruit more women, but they simply don’t apply!’ If that’s the case, you could be guilty of unconscious bias in your job ads.
Some firms have found that simply rephrasing job titles from plain old ‘technician’ to ‘customer service technician’, or ‘engineer’ to ‘design engineer’ has resulted in a significant rise in female applicants. The more creative wording seemingly goes some way to removing gender-oriented preconceptions.
If you’re serious about gender equality and attracting the next generation of talent, you should also look to promote talented women to leadership roles, helping shake off negative stereotypes and inspire female candidates.
At Opus, we’re committed to helping clients grow their businesses with tailored talent strategies.
With particular expertise in the fields of tech, energy and architecture, we’re all too aware of the urgent need to attract more women to these industries, which is why we’re planning to collaborate with the Women’s Tech Hub on a number of forthcoming events.
We want to understand why this lack of diversity exists and look to inspire changes in the prevailing culture, so keep an eye out for future updates.
Such dramatic differences simply don’t exist in other parts of the world, and there’s no reason why the West should be lagging behind on any issue of gender equality. Indeed, if your company prides itself on innovation, it’s time to tackle this discrimination.