Are women in science in a better position than women in tech?

Laura Wheeler of Digital Science gives her perspective on the challenges facing women in science and in technology, and tells us why role models like Ada Lovelace can provide inspiration.

3

Over the last few months a few controversial incidents relating to gender inequality in science have brought such issues to the forefront of the media’s watchful eye.

Twitter storms have blown these into the limelight. In particular, the Tim Hunt debacle and the episode of the PLOS ONE reviewer, whose remarks about a manuscript by two female researchers caused an outcry. Both these recent cases have created a sense that we still have a way to go in order to achieve true equality.

As a woman who has trained as a scientist, it does indeed sadden me to hear that these kinds of incidents are still happening and that such out-dated attitudes persist, but the reaction to them also reminds me that there is plenty of support out there for gender equality and a genuine desire for change.

Memes such as #distractinglysexy and political question time debates which focused on these issues, mean things are being taken seriously. There are also many initiatives in existence to support women in STEM careers (you can find a list here).

Digital Science most recently co-organised SciFoo Camp, an unconference hosted at the Googleplex in Palo Alto. Here issues of women in science were debated with passion, resulting in discussions highlighting the support that already exists, although there is still plenty of room for improvement. Founder of STEMWomen.net, Buddhini S, plans to write an enlightening summary on the session (so stay tuned).

But what is the state of affairs like for women in technology? Do they face worse treatment than women in science?

I am a woman working in technology and in science, and so have quite a broad perspective. Aside from my own anecdotes, the evidence indicates that there are more women entering the science arena, although the real challenges begin as they attempt to move up the career ladder. However, for women working in technology the situation is even more difficult – there are too few women entering the field in the first place.

The NCWIT Scorecard examines trends in the contribution of girls and women in computing in the US, providing a benchmark for measuring progress and identifying areas for development. The report shows that part of the challenge starts in early education at high school where there is a failing enrolment of girls in technology fields.

Last year Gartner ran a Chief Information Officer (CIO) Agenda report on: “A Perspective on the Priorities of Women and Men.” The report showed that the percentage of women CIOs in technology has remained largely the same since 2004, when Gartner first analysed the CIO Agenda Survey data by gender. It probably comes as no shock that the overall percentage of women in the role has not grown significantly in the last 10 years.

Cindi Howson recently wrote an illuminating commentary post on Gartner looking at Silicon Valley’s diversity numbers, which frankly speak for themselves.

Company Women in Tech Jobs Women in Leadership Women Overall
Apple 20% 28% 30%
Facebook 15% 23% 31%
Google 17% 21% 30%
Twitter 10% 21% 30%
Yahoo 15% 23% 37%

Sources: Company websites and Nick Heer’s blog.

Does this problem stem from the challenges of recruiting girls earlier on? Or are there also issues with promotion bias, or a lack of female role models?

As in science, there is a wide range of initiatives already in place to support women in technology, but undoubtedly there is still more that can be done. Cindi offers up a variety of practical advice, such as:

“Female leaders in technology have to mentor the younger workforce. Look for volunteer opportunities at your area high school, college, or any of the organizations mentioned earlier.”

More suggestions are encouraged!

Digital Science is keen to support both women in science and women in technology (and if you want to know what it’s like as a women working in tech for Digital Science you can read this helpful blog post by Ana Sofia Araújo Vila Verde who takes you through her role.)

Positive role models can provide important inspiration and it’s hard to think of a better one than Ada Lovelace.

Positive role models can provide important inspiration and it’s hard to think of a better one than Ada Lovelace. Ada was in many ways, recognised as the very first computer coder – you can read about her illustrious career here. This year marks the 200th anniversary of her birth and so provides a chance for us to use her example to inspire others.

Ada Lovelace Day aims to address the problems of women in science and technology by encouraging people to shine a light on the women they admire in these fields. The aim of the day is to raise not just their profiles, but the profile of every woman in these fields.

This year’s celebrations will take place on Tuesday 13 October in the form of an international day earmarking the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and maths. There is also still time to sponsor the day too, or even organise your own event – information can be found here.

Drawing inspiration from initiatives such as Ada Lovelace Day, it’s encouraging to see how far we’ve come in 200 years. Let’s make sure the progress continues!

View the latest posts on the BioMed Central blog homepage

3 Comments

By commenting, you’re agreeing to follow our community guidelines.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Amy

Thanks for such an interesting read and perspective, it’s great to hear from a lady who works in both science and in technology.

I personally work in technology and I agree and believe the problems stem from schooling as to why there are less women in tech. I have to say when I first started in my role, as a young women I was often not taken seriously by customers/colleagues….especially those who had been in the industry for years. But as soon as I proved how much experience I had and that I was good at the job – it did change their mind. The problem is getting their facetime in the first place to prove this. There are inherent problems, especially with younger women, but it’s nice to see support from the likes of Ada Lovelace day.

Reply
Laura Wheeler

Thanks Amy – and for your thoughtful comment! I do hope you will follow Ada Lovelace day and join in the discussions.

Reply
Betsy

A really compelling post Laura … and I’d like to also add that I think a big part of the (future) solutions to these issues start closer to home.

We, as parents, set the stage for the next generation and are responsible for raising both boys and girls to aim for equality; therefore will be more likely to really live it as men and women. To support that in our communities, we need more of these opportunities for boys and girls to have fun while learning together, side by side http://campinvention.org/about-us/

My 10YO daughter is thrilled to be attending Camp Invention next week. She was encouraged by her 4th grade teacher to do so, as he had gotten to really know her over the school year and recognized her potential. As a wise woman once said, “It takes a village.”

Reply