Women in technology and STEM in general has been discussed all around the globe. As a woman in tech with an engineering degree and a masters degree in management (I just blew my own trumpet now — I am nowhere close to being humble, you know me), I think I have every right to pitch in.
First, I should start by saying I am really privileged to have studied computer science and to have worked in various levels in the tech field, from a corporate to a start-up setup. My family, friends, and colleagues have always been supportive, so I succeeded and flourished in my career… and continue to flourish!
But not everyone has the same privilege as me.
The first and foremost culprit here is exposure. Many young girls are not aware that STEM fields are something women can take up, too. When they are young, they are often introduced to “girly” toys and “girly” books that do not portray girls as engineers or scientists. This gender stereotyping that they are exposed to early on in their life starts to condition their brains to assume they are not good enough in math or physics or coding. This is off-putting in every sense, and they choose to sway away from pursuing a career in STEM.
Movies (or any popular media for that matter) always portray working in technology as tech “dudes” working erratic hours with their “mates” or drinking and playing “nerdy” games. I am not saying we need a new Hollywood movie about a self-motivated, energetic, larger-than-life female tech CEO who successfully creates a competitor company for Facebook, with Mark Zuckerberg making a cameo appearance in the movie. But we do need more role models to break down the barrier and perception of the people. We need role models for the young, aspiring next generation of women to look up to.
There are several hurdles for women to overcome in order to pursue STEM subjects or venture into technology, and the poor retention of women in these jobs do not help the case of women in tech, either. There are a multitude of reasons for women to leave workforce such as harassment, unconscious bias within the team, gender pay gap, and a preconceived notion that women do not perform well as their male counterparts.
I think there is also a level of judgement in the society about women working in technology because of the longer work hours. This puts a lot of pressure on the them to achieve a good work-life balance and take-up more responsibility at home as well. An ex-colleague of mine back in India left her job because she thought the society would not approve of her working in IT.
A friend of mine in the UK was actively discouraged by her family from pursuing medicine as they thought she did not have the “brains” to study medicine because of her gender. Things aren’t too different on the other side of the globe, too. My friend working in the States quit her job as her promotion was repeatedly refused and she felt she wasn’t given the credit she deserved in the male dominated group.
This sums up the problem well. If you see societal barriers and the lack of role models as huge obstacles for girls pursuing STEM careers, retaining the womenfolk in the workforce or academia is even harder.
If you are a woman in tech who does not have a role model and is looking for inspiration, why don’t YOU inspire others? You can be a leader and motivate others.
Tell your story — that is a valuable thing to do. If you manage to inspire at least one girl to take up STEM, or at least one lady to stay in her tech job, you have played your part!