Believe it or not, we can remember a time when our team was made up entirely of male software developers and testers, and whilst we love our guys, we couldn’t understand why it was proving so difficult to find female applicants for our industry.
Luckily for us, we have since welcomed three female programmers onto our team; software developers Lucy and Kelly, and tester Judith. However, we still have a long way to go to reach our dream workplace ratio of 50/50 – a goal also shared by many technology companies in the UK and worldwide.
These statistics from 2013 paint an interesting picture of female representation in the computer software and hardware industries:
This worldwide study shows incredibly small numbers of female employees with software engineering skills in the workplace, especially in the software and hardware sectors (16% and 9%, respectively). This is incredibly eye-opening data, which poses the question – why?
In the UK at least, the answer is likely to lie in the fact that only 17% of students studying computer sciences in our universities are female. If that’s the case, there’s no wonder the numbers representing women in the field are so low!
Does the problem lay in education? Or are computer science subjects just not appealing to girls? One of our software testers, Judith, discusses her insights into this gender gap in the industry:
Did you study computer science or ICT at school, college or university?
“At my secondary school, ICT was a mandatory short-course that we all had to take for two years, but funnily enough I actually dropped out of ICT at college because I was the only girl and was too wimpy to stick it out! After that, I got my act together and decided to study ICT as an Open University distanced learning course.”
What made you choose ICT as a career path?
“Originally, I planned to teach ICT in schools, but changes in the education system over the years put me off.
ICT is an ever-evolving and developing area. It is fast moving and plays a huge part in our daily lives, and is only going to become more important as time goes on. I find it exciting to be a part of that, and I also love the challenge and feeling of satisfaction when you finally solve/crack something!”
Why do you think so few girls are studying computer science or ICT at school, college or university?
“Many just aren’t interested. Having worked in education, I’ve found that many girls perceive working with technology as a thing for boys; it isn’t seen as a ‘girly’ area to be involved in.
During the teenage years, how you are seen by your peers seems so important, and they don’t want to come across as ‘geeky’, so they often don’t take the chance to try ICT whilst at school. This usually means they never consider or develop an interest for taking it further at college or university.
Since most colleges or universities require you to have some sort of qualification in that area, if you haven’t studied it at school you might have limited access to the subject at college, and after that universities are likely to question your ability to tackle a subject area in which you have never been formally educated.”
Is there anything you would suggest to help encourage girls at this stage to study a computer science or ICT subject?
“Don’t be concerned by the lack of other girls in the subject, and don’t worry about what others will think about your choice of study; it’s your future that you are shaping and developing, and in years to come those people who have opinions now won’t be around you. The choices you make as a child/teenager matter.
Also, it’s best to start early to give yourself the chance to develop an interest. I was fortunate enough to grow up with a computer; we had one since I was about 9 or 10. I still remember being fascinated with having to enter DOS commands when you inserted the floppy disc in order to get programs to run. I remember being proud of being the only person at school who came in one day with a typed up piece of homework – and my teacher was just as impressed!
But that then got me wanting to know how things worked, and maybe without that initial introduction I would never have even considered the area. I started messing around with the computer (knowing what I know now, goodness knows how it survived), but as I got older it led to experiments like playing with broken hardware, or replacing computer parts and then building them. Once I was secure in that area, I wanted to know how to get the software side of things to work, and it went on from there.”
We’d love to see more women like Judith in the software industry, and with education and peer influence potentially blocking such talent it’s certainly an issue that needs addressing. Leave a comment below and let us know your thoughts on this issue!
Feeling inspired? Watch these TED Talks by Women in Computer Science: