Today, February 11 is the International Day of Women and Girls in Science so I’m wearing my Mars Needs Women Sweatshirt to raise awareness of the lack of women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) education and careers.
There are a number of issues causing an under-representation of women in tech and it means that women own only 5% of US tech startups and in the UK only 5% of tech leadership roles are held by women.
In terms of simple raw numbers, we need women in tech because we just don’t have enough men. The U.S. Department of Labor estimates that between 2010–2020 there will be more than 1.4 million computing-related job openings available in the United States. At current graduation rates, we can only fill about 30% of those jobs with U.S. computing graduates.
Young women bring great potential for filling this gap, yet to date, many factors dissuade them from choosing these majors and careers. We also need to look at bias and workplace conditions to understand why women in the technology leave the industry at the high rates that they do. Failing to capitalize on this talent threatens productivity, innovation, and competitiveness.
The second problem with this under-representation of women is that we are missing out on the valuable perspectives that 50% of the population might bring to designing the technology of the future.
With science advancing at a rapid rate in areas of nano-technology, medicine, artificial intelligence and chemistry we have huge opportunity and huge risks right at our doorsteps. We need the broadest set of great minds to apply to the problems and opportunities presented to give us the best chance of a future that is brighter for more of us not less.
A wealth of research in the past decade shows that diversity of team improves problem-solving, productivity and innovation. By breaking down the barriers that discourage young women from pursuing careers in technology and science we can ensure that the technology we design is as broad and innovative as the population it serves.
You can do something yourself today to help. Show your support for the cause by visiting the Mars Needs Women online store where a percentage of proceeds from every sale goes to help organisations supporting women in STEM education.
There is also a great book, “Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World” by Rachel Ignotofsky which features people like the physicist and chemist Marie Curie, who won a Nobel prize for her pioneering work on radioactivity as well as lesser-known pioneers such as Katherine Johnson, the African-American mathematician who calculated the trajectory of the Apollo 11 mission to the moon.
Maybe you could buy it for a young women you know and provide her with the role models that could inspire the person who cures cancer or even takes us to Mars?
If you want to learn more about the deep, historic issues behind the under-representation of women in tech, and in particular women of colour then consider watching the movie Hidden Figures. It’s a 2016 biographical drama about the black female mathematicians who worked at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) during the Space Race. It’s amazing.