Guest Post: Why Aren’t There More Australian Women in Tech?

The following is a guest post by Coder Factory Academy’s Steph Schaffer, which originally appeared on their blog here.

Fifty years ago, nearly half of the U.S. programmer workforce were women. Today, only 18 percent of computer science graduates have two X chromosomes. To create an effective solution, action against gender inequity in tech has to stem from multiple levels, starting with teaching more girls to code and offering scholarships to female programmers.

There are many reasons as to why women should work in the tech industry, yet they continue to be discouraged and intimidated as the technology sector remains a male-dominated field.

Tech continues to be perceived as “geeky” or “nerdy,” which discourages women from becoming involved in technology or even caring about tech in general.

Preceding the gender imbalance found in the tech industry is the underrepresentation of women in computer science programs. But, the sad truth of the matter is that when it comes to a lack of women in tech, the situation has worsened over the last few decades rather than improved. In 1984, 40 percent of computer science majors in colleges across the U.S. were women. Fifty years ago, nearly half of the programmers in the field were women. Fast track to present day and you’ll find that only 18 percent of computer science graduates have two X chromosomes.

What caused this sudden decrease in female representation? According to NPR’s ‘Planet Money’ episode ‘When Women Stopped Coding’, early personal computers, as most of us know, weren’t much more than toys that allowed us to play pong or simple shooting games — maybe even do some word processing. One thing we don’t realise as quickly is the fact that these so-called toys were marketed almost entirely to men and boys, in the same way that Barbies were geared towards girls. As you can then imagine, women began turning away from programming and computer science due to these constructed gender norms.

Thus, the long-held idea that computers are for boys became a socially engrained narrative. It became the story we told ourselves about the computing revolution. It helped define who geeks were, and it created techie culture as know it. And now, here we are stuck in a situation where, as revealed in Stanford University studies:

“Women’s quit rate in technology exceeds that of other science and engineering fields — with a full 56 percent leaving their organisations at midlevel points in their careers.”

As you can see, in the workplace, the situation only grows worse. The issue of gender inequality in the technology sector is not anything new. The problem resides in the fact that not only has it not improved, it’s actually become more dire as the years go by. Even in the public eye and pop culture’s portrayal, women in tech and female coders continue to be inaccurately represented and typecast in a light that reinforces a bizarre, borderline fetishised notion of “otherness”.

So, how can we work together to once and for all bridge the gender gap and increase female representation in the world of tech? One of the most important ways is to teach technology to young girls, and to encourage them to gain an interest in technology. Coding is a basic skill and soon-to-be universal language that everyone should know. But, as the recent headlines have shown, although female programmers’ code is rated more highly than men’s code only when their gender is unidentified, gender inequity exists even within programming languages.

We hope that the Australian government’s recently announced initiative — a $2.4 billion Digital Education Revolution — to help Australian students bridge the digital literacy gap will create a culture of inclusiveness for school-aged children of all genders and backgrounds.

We cannot emphasise enough that young girls need extra encouragement from teachers and mentors to follow their dreams of working in technology.

Through our weekly workshops with children, most of whom are girls, at the Redfern Community Centre, we take small steps to bridge this gap. But, we need more community, education, and technology advocates to stand behind us. When these girls grow up, we want their code to be rated just as well, if not better, than their programmer male counterparts’ code… with their names and gender attached.

Currently, there are less than 15% of women in technical roles, and the gender gap will continue to widen if nobody steps in and steps up.

Coder Factory Academy’s Women in Tech Scholarship was conceived of for the sole purpose of giving one woman per-intake the opportunity to pursue her dreams, with somebody saying ‘yes you can’ instead of ‘no you can’t’. With our scholarship, we offer women of all ages the empowering opportunity to gain the technical skills that will lead to a well-paid career as a software developer. Technology and coding play a role in our everyday lives. We need to form a sisterhood. We need to encourage women young and old not to be discouraged by sexism in programming and the workplace.

To create a wholesome solution, action against gender inequity in tech has to stem from multiple levels. Not only should young women be encouraged to pursue their passions (technical or not) from a young age — untouched by gender stereotypes — they must also be equipped with the tools they need to combat gender discrimination in the workplace. At the top of the funnel, management at tech companies must be made acutely aware of the problems that persist in tech work environments, and there must be proactive measures taken to address them. Alternatively, tech companies will continue losing out on 50 percent of the available workforce… and that’s not a portion of the talent pool these world-dominating companies can do without.

Ideas by Laura Willson; Words by Steph Schaffer

Originally published at www.coderfactoryacademy.edu.au