Statistics indicate that indeed there are fewer women in STEM. A lower number of women graduate in STEM compared to men. There are numerous reasons explaining this.
I talked to a few women in tech here in Kenya to get their perspective on the matter. From their responses and in most online discussions, stereotypes are the greatest culprit in this regard.
“… Stereotypes are the greatest detractors to young girls wishing to pursue a career in tech. The average ‘tech’ guy is depicted as a thin male in geek glasses typing away in movies, and newspapers. But girls are just as capable as boys in performing well in science and technology fields, and thus should be encouraged. The number of women
in STEM careers has increased over time, and though an optimum has not been reached, I have faith that we are headed there …” – Harriet Ocharo (Savvy Kenya), Blogger and IT Business Analyst at Ernst & Young
“… not enough awareness – younger women are not aware of the opportunities in the tech industry and more so not so much emphasis is done in high school about computing the focus is other courses E.g medicine, law and the likes. There is also a thing where most ladies do not like maths and sciences which in most cases is all in the mind, with this kind of mindset then very few women end up taking tech or any STEM related courses Nobody in my family was convinced me taking computing will build my life, they all insisted I should take another “major” course then computing as a “side thing”. I’m a rebel by nature and so did what I loved and I never regret the decision, actually now all my family members are so proud of me …” – Linda Kamau Lead Developer Ushahidi platform and Vice President at Akirachix
“… Most women view technology as coding and having no life …” – Juliet Kirui, Software Developer, Mobile Telecommunications and Innovation Grad Student at the Safaricom Academy
There are a number initiatives and organisations fostering women’s participation in STEM (Science Technology and Mathematics).
Specifically, in tech, there are numerous initiatives addressing the inequality. Examples include girls who code, black girls who code and in Kenya, Divas 4 Tech, Akirachix and iLab Africa’s Girl Effect project. Some scholarships are only open to women.
In February, Akili Dada partnered with Safaricom Women In Technology and Iridescent Learning to roll out the Technovation Challenge. Technovation Challenge is the largest and longest-running global technology competition exclusively for girls to inspire the pursuit of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math)
Back to my question: Do we need more women in tech? Definitely, for diversity and equality’s sake. I think a better question would be: Are there women who are (or should be) interested in tech but can’t get in?
The answer to that question is much more critical and will get better results in terms of getting more women into tech.
Let’s level the playing field, get them interested (especially at an early age), mentor and help them be the best in what they do. Let’s lower the barriers to entry just like the Girlrising campaign is doing. This will lead to an increase in the supply of female talent. As Daria puts it, “We need to be thinking about how to get women to invent the products behind the next Amazon or Google, and lead from the start.”