Today is International Day of the Girl, with this year’s theme being EmPOWER Girls: Before, during and after emergencies.
The day was created by the United Nations in 2012 in order to shed light on the challenges girls face all around the world. And while this year’s event is focused on the violence experienced by girls globally, from sexual and physical violence to child marriage, exploitation and trafficking, we wanted to take this opportunity to talk about gender inequality in the field of technology and the ways in which all of us, men and women alike, can support, encourage and celebrate greater female participation in the industry.
Yes, this article doesn’t deal directly with the theme of empowering girls before, during or after emergencies, but hopefully, it can be a source of inspiration for girls wanting to step into the world of technology and build careers for themselves as innovators and leaders in the 21st century.
Recognising there’s a problem
This first thing we have to do is recognise there’s a problem. As PwC point out in their Women in Tech report, only 5 percent of leadership positions in the technology sector are held by women, which is actually quite surprising when you consider the fact that only 3 percent of women say a career in technology is their first choice. 78 percent of students can’t name a famous woman working in technology and only 16 percent of women have had a career in technology suggested to them.
The reason the gender gap currently experienced in the technology sector relates directly to the empowerment of girls is that as PwC found, the gender gap in technology starts well before women start working – in fact, it starts at school and then carries through to every stage of a girl and woman’s life.
Depressingly, young girls aren’t thinking about careers in technology because in general it isn’t even being presented to them as an option. In an industry that is so heavily dominated by men, where only 22 percent of students can name a famous woman working in technology, compared to two thirds that can name a famous man, over a quarter of female students say they’ve been put off a career in technology because they rightly view it as being too male dominant.
And we at Advantage can attest to this. We are one of those tech firms that is heavily male dominated. Do we have women working with us? Of course. Are they a small percentage of our overall workforce? Unfortunately, yes. And it isn’t because we like it that way: we want the best person for the job, regardless of race, gender, religious belief or political leaning. If you’re passionate and knowledgeable about technology and like helping small to medium-sized businesses transform the way they work that’s all the requirements we need to employ you. Yet, when we go to market with a vacancy, be it for Managed Services, a NAV consultant, a programmer or an account manager, we overwhelmingly receive applications from men, in fact, there are times when we only receive applications from men. No matter how inclusive an organisation we’d like to be, there’s only so much we can do when those who apply are only male. To that end, we’d like to say this:
If you’re a woman with experience in either GP, NAV, CRM, Dynamics 365 or IT Managed Services, when a vacancy becomes available at Advantage, please apply. We would be delighted to consider you for a position.
And to girls currently studying at school, or young women getting their degrees at university, we encourage you to strongly consider a career in IT. It is an exciting, dynamic and highly interesting field to work in. With the rise in Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Augmented Reality, Business Intelligence and Automation, the industry is at the precipice of a growth explosion unrivalled by any other industry. We need critical thinkers that can bring a new perspective to the technology we’re building for the future. We invite you to be a part of this amazing journey.
Even though there’s a deficit in the number of women in leadership position in the world of technology, that doesn’t mean they’re not out there or that it always has to be this way. There is nothing about technology that is inherently male. For those 78 percent of students that couldn’t name a single famous woman working in technology, here’s a list of five to get you started. This list is by no means comprehensive, there are many, many more female tech leaders out there:
1. Gwynne Shotwell, President of SpaceX:
We all know Elon Musk, right? Well, let me introduce you to the woman that run’s his SpaceX company, Gwynne Shotwell. With a degree from Northwestern University in mechanical engineering and applied mathematics, Shotwell leads the work being done on the next-generation Dragon spacecraft. You know, the one that’s planning to go to Mars in 2018.
2. Amy Hood, Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer at Microsoft:
Before becoming CFO at one of the world’s largest tech companies, Hood was CFO of Microsoft’s Business Division, which means she was responsible for productivity applications including, Microsoft Office 365, Office, SharePoint, Exchange, Dynamics ERP and Dynamics CRM. These are the productivity applications Advantage specialises in and sells, as a Microsoft Gold Partner, Hood, was in a way our boss.
3. Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer at Facebook:
Mark Zuckerberg may be the pin-up boy of the social networking giant, but Sheryl Sandberg is the one that keeps the wheels turning. Prior to joining Facebook, Sandberg was vice president of global online sales and operations at this really tiny tech firm called Google. Sandberg has been included in the Times 100 most influential people in the world and is considered by many to be a leading voice for female empowerment in the workplace and shared responsibilities at home.
4. Kimberly Bryant, Founder and Executive Director of Black Girls Code:
Bryant founded Black Girls Code in 2011 with the intention of bringing tech education to girls of colour between the ages of six and 17. Girls can learn to develop mobile apps, computer programming, as well as other Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics skills (STEM). Bryant’s goal is not only to inspire women of colour to think about a career in technology, she is focused on providing practical, real-world skills that will increase the number of minority women represented in the tech industry.
5. Susan Wojcicki, Chief Executive Officer at YouTube:
Wojcicki was Google’s 16th employee. She started with the tech giant in 1999 as its first marketing manager, later heading all marketing and commerce activity. Since 2014, Wojicki has been CEO of YouTube and ranks at number eight on Forbes Most Powerful Women list.
I could well imagine a girl reading about the women just mentioned, thinking they’re out of her reach. That there must be something unique, or special about that group of women. And while they are incredibly brilliant individuals who are exceptionally intelligent and wildly successful, that doesn’t mean they were always like that. Everyone has to start somewhere, and it’s hardly ever at the top. All of these women worked tirelessly for what they have, they probably had to work twice as hard as the men around them in order to prove they could be taken seriously. And as depressing as that last sentence sounds, these, and the many other women like them, working in technology right now, are the ones that are paving the way for the girls of today to be the leaders of tomorrow.
So, what can all of us do to make sure that the girls of today consider a career in technology when they’re older? Well, first off, let them know that no profession is out of their reach. Engineers don’t have to be men, nurses don’t have to be women. All you have to be, to be anything is passionate, ambitious and assiduous in your commitment to working hard.
Encourage girls to be technology creators, innovators and leaders right from primary school. Parents, family friends, teachers and other students should all encourage girls to participate in STEM activities. We all need to be sources of inspiration and role models to the girls around us. If you don’t know where to start, here’s a link to Mashable UK’s 8 ways you can empower girls to learn coding.
Whoever you are, whatever you do, it’s your responsibility to make sure all children, not just boys, and not just girls, feel they have the opportunity, support and ability to achieve whatever dreams they have. In an industry that is growing and is at the forefront of creativity and human imagination, it is disappointing that so few girls feel that they are welcome to participate. I hope this changes and day’s like today give us an opportunity to reflect and hopefully to act.
Words by Camilo Lascano Tribin