In 2016, Jason Wingard (Dean and professor at Columbia University) spent a few months working closely with several top tech firms to find inventive ways to support talent in the technology industry. He quickly realised there was one pressing issue to be solved if technology was to accurately portray the future of our society: the representation of women and their position in the industry.
Women are still the minority in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) and since there is very little exposure for female role models in the industry in the media, it seems important, today more than ever, that we remind women everywhere that it is never too late to consider a career in STEM. Here is some advice to help you and those around you bridge the gap between technology and gender.
1- Plant the seed
Younger brains learn faster than the adult brain, and in today’s society programming is rapidly becoming as essential as literacy. Plant the seed in young peoples’ minds by letting them try a tech camp: all the social benefits of a summer camp with the added extras of programming courses and fun hackathons. There is no better way for your kid (girl or boy) to know whether they have a passion for STEM than to get them to try it out early on.
Today’s society is working hard to finally knock down gender stereotypes, and given the opportunity as many girls as boys would play with video games, robotic kits and science labs. By allowing them to develop their curiosity in the sciences you will pave the way to a world where there are as many women as there are men in STEM. Women and men are too often pitted against each other when there is so much more to gain from working together.
2- Allow yourself to try, regardless of the results
There is no need to overthink a position in STEM if you feel passionate about the industry. Although you may make mistakes and face some failures, you are not alone. Give yourself permission to fail, dust yourself off, learn from it and try again.
Men and women are both equally capable of learning how to program and code. There are so many transferable skills to be learnt from STEM classes and courses: Logic, data structures, database queries and manipulations, API connections, plugins configuration, etc. – all of these can take your professional life to the next level and are easily within your grasp nowadays.
3- Get involved and make friends
There are so many communities striving to encourage women to develop computer skills and pursue technology jobs and careers. Some of my favourite places in London are the following: Campus London where you can make meaningful connections with industry experts and General assembly where you can find free coding, data analysis and security classes. Some groups that also have a lot to offer are WomenWhoCode and Women Techmakers. Do not feel intimidated by the technical stack; investing time in getting extra skills is more than worth it and rewarding.
4- Strength is in unity
Improving gender balance in technology is beneficial not only to the tech industry as a whole but women can also help to reduce the digital skills crisis and enhance our work environment.
There are so many communities, podcasts and books that can keep us updated in our tech skills and network with other women with similar interests. We joined the industry because we are passionate about what we do and we should carry on improving our skills and work hard to climb the ladder (if that is part of your goals) or undertake a project we are passionate about. A good piece of advice that has always stuck with me is from Sheryl Sandberg (COO of Facebook) and can be found in her book Lean in in which she suggests to “step up and sit at the table”. What she means is carry on building your confidence and never be afraid of expressing yourself.
Some good organisations to network with are the National Center for Women in Technology, Women in Technology, Women Hack for Non-Profits and so many others meetups where you can find mentors or help others. Some of my favourite general tech podcasts are Software Engineering Daily Podcast and Programming Throwdown; however, there are so many other specific ones based on you tech stack.
To conclude, in order to bridge the gender gap in technology it is important not only for women to help each other through dedicated networks, but also (and above all) for everyone to help each other out regardless of gender. The more we label or create communities solely based on gender the wider the gap will become. So let us all take action, lose the fear attached to new technologies and push ourselves to learn to reach the next level!
Here are links to the great organisations and podcasts mentioned in the article:
National Center for Women in Technology
Women in Technology
Women Hack for Non-Profit
Software Engineering Daily Podcast
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