Girls, girls, girls … in technology?

The other day I attended the UCL Computer Science Department External Advisory Board meeting and one of the agenda items was the “gender issue” in computer science.

Only about 20% of computer science students at UCL are female
Now it’s no news to me that women are generally under represented in IT and therefore it shouldn’t be a surprise that only about 20% of computer science students at UCL are female.

When I looked around the table at the meeting, it was of course male dominated.

This got me thinking.

Not too long ago, working in technology meant creating software for complex machines usually used in a business context (corporations / business software) and very rarely something that is created by people for people.

Even consumer websites were mostly driven by the capabilities of the underlying technology and not the needs of the end users.  These were just assumed to be to consume the features of the site.

My, how things have changed

These days children grow up surrounded by and using technology from an early age, be it feature phones, smartphones, tablets, laptops, PCs, smart TVs, consoles.

Technology is about people, not features.
Ever since technology has moved more into our pockets (iPhone anyone?) we have grown used to consumer technology being user friendly rather than a pain in the a**e (remember VCRs?).

However, making stuff easy to use is actually quite hard and requires not just a fair deal of thinking, but also an understanding of people’s needs.

Please note, I’m not talking about plain old requirements here.

I mean people’s needs.

Contemporary technology design needs women

We interact with technology on a continuous basis and funnily enough it’s even non-technology consumer companies that have realised that their target consumers are now interacting with them through their mobiles, tablets and computers.

Emotion driven technology design requires people skills, namely empathy
The consumerisation of technology has led to a more emotion driven tech design that requires people skills, something that our traditional and stereotypical IT worker is not known to have.

Let’s drop IT stereotypes

The challenge that the technology industry faces is to drop the self-perpetuating stereotype that it only involves careers for tech geeks, who like to sit in basements and code.

Contemporary technology design requires people who can bridge the gap between the people who use the technology and those who physically build it.

In fact there is a variety of careers that one can follow in tech without ever needing to code.  The user experience field is only one example.

But let’s not replace IT stereotypes with gender ones

Now let’s not get into the debate of whether women are more emotionally intelligent than men because that’s not what this is about.

But I would definitely say that a more gender balanced workplace, especially in tech design will produce better products than a purely male dominated one.

After all, your products will most likely be used by women as well.

IT doesn’t need glamming up

A while ago, I read somewhere that the IT industry needs to be glammed up so that it attracts more women.

I fundamentally disagree with that because

  • … it cements the gender stereotype that women are only interested in jobs that are superficial
  • … lying about what the industry is should not be a viable strategy to attract the best and the brightest talent

Let’s destroy IT myths

Instead we as practitioners need to

  • … actively fight misconceptions and preconceived ideas about what jobs in technology industry entail.
  • … drop gender biases that feed these misconceptions
  • … show young kids that the tech industry is so much more than programming (which is also very important)
  • … encourage women in the industry to be role models to help with the above

Personally I am currently in the process of recruiting a few female colleagues to be contacts for schools to help with the above.

If you’d like to be involved as well, drop me a line.