If She Can See It, She Can Be It
Role Models: Why Visibility is Crucial to Closing the Technology Gender Gap
4 min read
Technology gender gap
The technology gender gap refers to the lack of females, in comparison to men, studying or working in a technology related subject, role, or industry. These of course go hand-in-hand. The less females studying technology related subjects in comparison to men, means less women entering technology roles and careers.
If she CAN’T see it, she CAN’T be it
Without females visible in the top positions of technology organisations, or as entrepreneurs running their own business, how do we expect women working in tech to believe they have anywhere they can grow? It’s a reality that women in these industries themselves perceive that they are unlikely to advance, and that statistically, according to research by LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Co., women get passed over for promotion more than men.
Unfortunately, this has meant a decrease of women in Tech or STEM related careers, increasing the gender gap further. A study by Jennifer Glass and co-authors in 2013 found that women leave STEM fields at dramatically higher rates than women in other occupations. After 12 years, 50% of technical women, predominately in engineering and computer science, had switched to other fields; 20% of other women professionals had done the same.
Ultimately, women face barriers in the technology workplace, meaning they remain underrepresented in the field. Research uncovered by ISACA shows that 42% of all participants agreed that a lack of female role models in the field was one of the top barriers experienced by women in tech. This lack of, and limited visibility of, role models, make the idea of a female succeeding in technology or working in a top position somewhat of an abnormality.
It is not just females already building careers within the technology industry that need to be reached, it’s also the pipeline factors: the future generations.
Modelling ourselves on others is part of human nature, especially when we are very young. Beyond our inner circle, we look to the external world and media to see who can inspire us.
A report by PWC, entitled Women in Tech: Time to close the gender gap, found that only 22% of the students surveyed can name a female tech role model, while 66% can name a famous man working in the sector. This lack of female role models is impacting on girls’ perception of tech careers and whether the career is right for them. The same report also highlighted that just over a quarter (27%) of females say they would consider a career in technology, compared to 62% of males.
There is clear evidence that young girls are interested in, and enjoy, technology subjects at school, but lose interest as they grow older. A study by Microsoft showed that young girls are interested in STEM subjects around the age of 11 and then quickly lose interest when they're 15. This drop off in high school is potentially due to peer pressure at this teenage age but also because they can’t see themselves working in the tech sector, as they don’t have role models to relate to. Girls cited a lack of female role models in STEM as a key reason they didn’t follow a career in the sector, with over 60 percent of girls who took part in the survey said they would like to see more encouragement coming from professionals in tech.
Without support for young girls in schools, with real life examples of women succeeding in technology, they might not feel confident to pursue their interests further. Ultimately, the lack of women in the tech profession is self-perpetuating.
If she CAN see it, she CAN be it
So, how can visibility and role models create a change? And why should be try and push for this?
Role models are the key to changing perceptions. The effect of women such as Marissa Mayer (CEO of Yahoo) and Sheryl Sandberg (Chief Operating Officer of Facebook) have not gone unnoticed.
More women need to be seen succeeding in the tech industry. We need to gain more women into tech and more visibility of those that are already in tech.
Strong female role models are important to show women how they can succeed in the tech industry. We want current and future women in technology to know this is a normal and logical career path to choose. The more women you see in those jobs, the more you’ll feel it’s a viable option. This will then begin to be regarded as a standard, rather than an exception. This is why role models are so important.
Women in business today need to be visible. Shining a light on role models can help bring positive change in the perception towards women in the technology industry. Role models can then become mentors; actively engaging, and creating change on a more personal level.
SheCanCode will shortly be launching our own Role Model section, depicting real life women who are currently working in the tech industry.
Do you work in tech and think you could be a role model or mentor for current or future women in tech? Are you already a role model/mentor? Please let us know in the comments or get in touch. There are so many resources to help you become a role model or mentor – stay tuned for Part 2 of this blog which will cover this.
Be the change you want to see – today!
Charlotte Anderson is a marketing enthusiast with a First Class Degree in Business from the University of Sussex. Currently, she is working as a digital marketer involved heavily with social media marketing and content creation, and hoping to gain further knowledge in coding and website development. Having written many essays around the subject of gender equality and representation in the media, she hopes to convey the passion for the subject through her blog posts with SheCanCode.