International Women’s Day: a perspective on how far women have come in tech
Friday 8th March marks International Women’s Day, so we’ve taken the opportunity to celebrate and reflect on the advances that have been made in women’s rights and to look at the place of women in the tech sector.
How far have women come in history
The first computer programmer in history was a woman – Ada Lovelace, who devised an algorithm for Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine over a nine-month period starting in 1842. We still have improvements to make for total equality in the tech sector today. Yet, enormous advances have been made in women’s rights in the last century.
Women in fact now outnumber men in higher education and, on average, get better results at all levels. However, there’s still a double-digit gender pay gap and there are substantial differences in pay even when comparing male and female graduates of the same universities, same courses and working in the same industries.
The gender divide in tech
Many of the statistics regarding the tech sector can seem disheartening – with a significant decline in the number of women in computing occupations over the last 30 years and a reduction of women taking computer and information sciences degrees.
What advice would Katz give to women who are thinking about making a career in tech? “People like to romanticise the idea of being an innovator but it’s not always easy,” says Katz Kiely, CEO of Beep. “I am somewhere between brave and fearless,” she continues. “If I can see something has to be done I’ll do it and ask for forgiveness later. I’ve been known to say that something can definitely be done before I have worked out how we are going to do it. Where there is a will there is always a way.”
Candyce Costa, founder of Digital Business Women and Hello Tech, meanwhile, points to the often fundamental challenges that women frequently face. “[The biggest issue for me is] to be respected. My skillset is unique and completely outside the box… In my case, being creative and analytical, adaptable and a fast learner gave me the confidence to start and explore new paths. But I still have people confused and amazed that I danced [in ballet] until my thirties.”
Companies with more than 250 employees now have to publish details on levels of representation and rates of pay for men and women at different levels of the workforce. This transparency is shining a light on inequality – and setting the stage for change.
While there’s no doubt that women are under-represented in the tech sector, it’s increasingly accepted that this is a real issue – and programmes like Empiric’s Next Tech Girls are working to bridge the gender gap. By helping teenage girls find work experience placements, by connecting them with mentors and by highlighting female role models in tech, such initiatives can drive real social change.
Of course there are plenty of female exemplars making a mark on the industry – from Marissa Mayer, former CEO of Yahoo!, to Sheryl Sandberg, the COO at Facebook, to Martha Lane Fox, arguably the face of the UK tech sector as well as being a co-founder of lastminute.com, a crossbench peer and the Chancellor of The Open University. And that’s not to forget individuals like Grace Hopper and Ida Rhodes who pioneered programming and computer development over the course of the twentieth century.
What does the future hold for women in tech? “More support and encouragement [is what’s needed],” says Candyce. “We have data that confirms having women in leadership, part of product design and development teams, as founders and CEOs, makes companies grow faster and become more successful. So I believe we have to change the status quo right now and recognise that diversity has a positive impact in our business and society.”
Katz, meanwhile, thinks that more women in tech could and should change the focus in the years ahead. “I have a clear vision of a better, more democratized, sustainable world where people can live their full potential and where, together, they can be so much more than the sum of the parts – and I’ll continue to do whatever is in my power to get closer to that reality,” she says.
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