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Tech, we have a problem (and a solution): Addressing gender disparity

Scales with Male and Female Gender Symbols on Beige Background. Gender Disparity Concept

ARTICLE SUMMARY

Tech has a gender disparity problem! But how did we get here? And what is the solution? Dr Paul Sant, Head of Computer Science at The University of Law, explores this topic further.

Dr Paul Sant is currently the Head of Computer Science at The University of Law, taking up the position in October 2022.

gender disparity

Prior to that he was at the University of Bedfordshire between 2005 and 2022 initially as a Lecturer/Senior Lecturer and Principal Lecturer, then becoming Associate Dean of the Milton Keynes campus before returning back to Computer Science as Head of the School of Computer Science and Technology between 2018 and 2022.

Paul has a wealth of experience in management roles within Academia and passionate about developing the field of technology, especially encouraging more girls to study computing, and for more females and non-binary people to take up careers with technology. He is also a STEM Ambassador and member of the Council of Professors and Heads of Computing (CPHC) committee.

There is no denying it (well, you could deny it, but that would not be a good idea) – in the technology sector we have a BIG problem.

One that will not go away unless we:

  1. Recognise the problem
  2. Work together to see how we can solve the problem
  3. Take action and drive change

So, what is this mysterious problem in tech? Actually, it is a simple problem – there are too many men.

Indeed, this is not just a problem/challenge that resides in the technology job market, it is a problem that has roots in schooling and higher education, and we need to do something (spoiler – change will not happen overnight, but it can happen)

gender disparity

I hear you all ask – How did it happen? What can we do? And, I hope, how can I help?

We haven’t started out on a very positive note, but as the famous D:Ream song says ‘Things, can only get better). In fact, things are starting to get better, but change is gradual, and we need to persevere and keep going (it is a marathon, not a sprint).

So, how did we end up in such a dire situation where we have a technology job market that is male dominated? Partly it is down to some gender stereotypes, partly down to the fact that in the early days of technology, just like in engineering, those who entered the job market were often male. The problem then got worse because males (and to be fair, humans) tend to look for those who are like them, those who want to be them, and the ‘poster boys’ of tech are just that – male.

However, we can (and are) changing things. Progress is not instantaneous – one thing we need to do more of is to celebrate the many successful achievement of female and non-binary people in tech – people like Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon MBE, British computer scientist and social entrepreneur and founder of Stemettes whose message is clear Science, Technology, Arts, Engineering and Mathematics (STEAM) really is for everyone. Another person driving change is Julia Adamson MBE of the BCS – The Chartered Institute for IT, who works tirelessly with schools through initiatives such as the Computing At School who, working with other females (and some males too) are advocating for change in the school curriculum, and building strong relationships with universities to foster change, encourage more female and non-binary people into computing/technology at higher education level, and then increasing their progress rates into the tech industry. The work of the UK STEM Ambassador network is also fundamental – working with primary and secondary children to foster their interest, especially those who are female and to keep them engaged and increasing the chances of them following a career in STEM/STEAM.

At the end of the last paragraph, we introduced an important ‘challenge’: the computing curriculum in change. Evidence has shown that females are far less likely to make a choice to follow Information and Communication Technologies / Computer Science at GCSE level – we need to ensure that the curriculum excites all, that there are more visible role models that females and non-binary people can relate to, and most importantly of all – we need to make the curriculum and career choices exciting for these groups, to inspire them and to tell them about the many roles in technology – it is not all about being a programmer or engineer – technology is now so pervasive that it affects everyday life, and there are careers in technology within many sectors (film, radio, law, accounting, data). We also need to make the environment welcoming and familiar and generally address this challenge, otherwise we will continue in a vicious circle and things will not get better.

We also need to hold up pioneers in tech who are not ‘men’ – Grace Hopper, Ada Lovelace, Katherine Johnson, Anne-Marie Imafidon MBE, Radia Perlman, Dame Martha Lane-Fox, Professor Muffy Calder, Professor Dame Muffy Calder, Professor Dame Wendy Hall, Karen Spärk Jones – the list is long, but these people often get ‘drowned out’ by their male counterparts – let’s change this, let’s celebrate that technology can, and should be a diverse sector (in all senses of the definition) and let’s continue to strive for change – it is not that we should ‘eradicate’ men from the tech sector, but we should have appropriate representation, make tech diverse, exciting and a place where women and non-binary people want to work, feel comfortable, be recognised for their achievements and help to drive forward technological developments for the whole of society.

So, how can you help?

Consider a career in technology, or perhaps study technology, consider a career change, or simply get involved (whether as a student, as an employer, or just as someone who is passionate about getting more females and non-binary people into technology (at school, college, university and employment).

Let’s break done these barriers and make tech a welcoming place for all…

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