In today’s information driven world, it is important that everyone to have at least some technology skills. For that reason, programming has become standard in many school curriculums. Many programs increase knowledge for teenagers in the field but popularity lags with girls.
In the early days, women were well representation in the field of computers. They were popularly known as “human computers” working on complicated calculations and cryptography. A well known example, the Harvard Computers now called “Female Astronomers Who Captured the Stars.”
During World War II, more women held computing jobs. The earliest programmers on ENIAC (the first programmable, electronic, general purpose digital computer) were women. At the time, “supervisors believed programming was a low-skilled clerical job.” The people [men] hired women to work on ENIAC believing that the hardware side of things required more “brain work.” Software development was considered “less masculine” and less important. As the field progressed, men realized that programming is hard; so they “masculinized it,” creating associations, requiring advanced educational degrees and discouraging hiring women.
The field once considered “less masculine” is now strongly masculine. When someone pictures a programmer, they describe males working at night with zero social skills! The key word being “males.” And so the stereotype reversed from programming being a “female thing” to “women are less brilliant and less capable.”
As computer science became prestigious, men forced women out, creating a downward trend in the number of female Computer Science graduates. Princeton at one point refused to enroll women into their computer science program, reinforcing bias.
Some even say AI is biased. When Amazon considered using AI for resume sorting, it rejected all of the female resumes. Why? Because machines make mathematical decisions rather than ethical or subjective decisions. Biased models training AI, biases the result. This phenomenon is explained in a documentary called “Coded Bias”.
Female under-representation computer engineering damages the development of companies and the world. McKinsey reported that diverse companies perform better, hire better talent, have more engaged employees and higher retention than less or non diverse companies. Currently, there are 44 Women CEOs in Fortune 500, an 8.8 % increase over last year’s 41 – a small improvement.
What can be done to improve the situation?
- Leverage outreach and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programs and reach underrepresented girls and women from a young age through university years. *Note that Informed is hiring and we have a strong and diverse team including fantastic women!
- Focus on girl centered programs over classroom centered ones; research shows girls are more hesitant and less assertive in mixed gender settings. It’s important that girls feel comfortable and gain confidence to develop their interest and skills in computer science.
- Create safe, respectful and welcoming spaces for women in tech.
Decreasing this gender gap requires consistent work, but as the world becomes ever more digitized, we all will benefit from having more women in tech.
Namratha Shah is a Backend Software Engineer at Informed.IQ. She is very passionate about empowering women in technology.