Women pioneered the earliest discoveries in computing as far back as the 1800’s and have been instrumental in many more recent advancements in computing. (Think: helping to send humans to the moon, wireless technology and lots of computer software that powers our daily lives!) Despite being early leaders in the field of computing—and developers of the technology upon which many of our modern innovations have been built—women today face disheartening odds in the sectors they once pioneered.
In Canada, women hold less than 25% of all technology roles and research suggests the gap is only getting worse. And, while STEM jobs have experienced some of the largest gains in employment and tend to pay more than most sectors, in Canada, in 2011, the unemployment rate of women with a STEM degree is actually higher than those without 1Insights on Canadian Society, Statistics Canada
Gender differences in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and computer science (STEM) programs at university
As a woman and as the CEO of a national digital literacy organization, I find myself particularly frustrated by these realities. Whether you want to talk about our proficiency as developers, our effectiveness in the C-suite, or our contributions to the GDP—women are a force to be reckoned with.
Why is it a problem?
Not engaging women and young girls in the creation of technology is a huge problem. If we’re going to solve the world’s biggest problems and prosper economically in the digital world, we need technology that is built by a group as representative as the ones using it. We need to give all Canadians—and especially women, youth, and underrepresented groups—the skills, confidence and opportunities to understand how the world around them (technology) works and engage them to create online and access the jobs of the future.
Moreover, research suggests that if women fail to make stronger inroads into STEM fields, it will be difficult to close the overall gender pay-gap that our country faces.
Not engaging women and young girls in the creation of technology is a huge problem.
So, what gives?
According to a recent TD Economics Report, the potential causes for the under-representation of women in STEM fields are many and complex. Girls and women face many layers of systemic bias throughout their lives and careers and this starts as early as primary school. Young girls’ and women’s attitudes towards STEM and their perceived aptitude in subjects like math are shaped at an early age and the results can be pervasive. Those young girls that do make it into the industry as adult women are often faced with sexism and unwelcome work environments that push them out.
How to fill the gap?
Just as the cause is complex, so is the solution.
Parents have pivotal role in helping to spark an early interest in computing for their kids—especially their young daughters by encouraging them to play with technology and embrace failure.
Educators can make lessons more inclusive and relevant to girls. Our experience working with tens of thousands of girls supports connecting STEM to real-world applications and connecting the technology to a broader purpose. Girls want to solve problems and bring their ideas to life and are excited to develop the skills to help them do so. An integrated curriculum that combines coding with other subjects can help youth, especially girls, see coding as a creative tool tapping into their own individual passions and interests.
Technology leaders, especially women in the industry, are strong mentors and their presence in the tech sector has been found to positively influence girls’ decisions to pursue studies in computer science.
Government and businesses have a huge role to play in investing in early advocacy, upskilling and inclusion of women in the industry through development opportunities and progressive and inclusive corporate policies.
As a country, we must continue to push for progress. In bridging the gender divide, we all have a role to play.