Role models are important because they give us the ability to imagine our future selves. The more closely we identify with these role models, the easier it is to imagine ourselves in their position.
That’s why the lack of female role models in technology is concerning. It comes as no surprise since only 36% of people entering the tech industry are female.
That number even starts to decline as you move higher up the career ladder.
Only 19% of C-suite executives in the tech industry are women.
The figures have barely budged since 2013 when the problem was thrust into the spotlight by Pinterest engineer Tracy Chou on her Medium blog and companies were scrambling to publish their diversity stats.
Since then, the overall figures remain abysmal.
Reasons for this trend circle around how tech is largely a boys’ club, where gender bias and discrimination abound.
Excuses focus on how women aren’t interested in tech, they’re not applying for the positions, or they just aren’t as good.
In the 1980s, computer science students in the US were almost a 50:50 gender split. Research shows that in 2016, British female school pupils express more interest in IT work experience than boys.
So why the change?
Role models strongly influence how we perceive ourselves.
It’s actually the case that before the 1980s, ‘tech’ jobs were seen as menial work. The majority of roles were held by women.
By labelling certain fields of knowledge as ‘male’ through the use of role models, popular culture influenced a whole generation of kids into new gender-specific careers.
Knowledge is for everyone
Yet, the idea of gender-specific areas of knowledge and work is perpetuated with a series of self-sustaining role models.
Mark Zuckerberg and his male co-founders launched Facebook at Harvard in 1994. It has since become the multi-billion dollar social networking behemoth used by more than 1.5 billion people each month. Facebook is worth $350 billion.
Steve Jobs and his two other male co-founders created Apple Inc. in 1976. They’ve since grown it into the technology giant we know today, worth $586 billion.
After founding the company in 1975 with partner Richard Allen, Bill Gates steered desktop computer firm Microsoft to world-domination, a company now worth $507 billion. He’s also the richest man in the world, at $79 billion.
The list goes on. The richest 10 billionnaires in the world are all – you guessed it – men.
We have a repeating cycle of rich white guys making their way through ivy league colleges, dominating the tech industry, and hiring other rich white guys.
These men wield incredible power, and they continually reinforce the belief in the superiority and exclusiveness of men in tech.
Top 5 female role models in tech
I’m highlighting a few of my favourite female role models in technology to start to redress the balance. This is only my small contribution to the impressive efforts of the many amazing women in tech initiatives out there.
- Alice Bentinck [Entrepreneur First]
Alice is the co-founder of Entrepreneur First and Code First: Girls. She’s a generally all-round amazing woman in tech. She advocates helping more women switch to tech from non-technical backgrounds. As a Code First: Girls alumni, I’m a big fan of her work and her drive to help other women achieve their dreams. She’s the perfect example of making the change you seek.
- Lara Hogan [Etsy]
Lara Hogan is Engineering Director at Etsy and an authority on public speaking. Lara taught herself front end web development. She’s an advocate for women in tech and has released a book called Designing for Performance. She’s donating all of the sales from the book to female non-profit coding initiatives such as Girl Develop It and Black Girls Code. What a champion!
- Eleanor Harding [Twitter]
Eleanor is an all-round awesome woman in tech who works in Product Design at Twitter. I saw her chair a panel at a VR event in London and she was so impressive, despite having to ad lib on the night. Her skills are amazing – just check out her portfolio. She somehow still manages to remain down-to-earth as a leading light for women in tech.
- Luciana Carvalho [Racefully] pictured above
Luciana is a passionate women in tech advocate who owns her own company, SE Solutions. She works in business development for social health app Racefully, and is very active in the VR space. I first saw her talk on a panel about cyber security, and was really impressed by her genuine nature and drive to help others. She has an illustrious career history, with a degree in law from Cambridge, and creating Brazil’s number one Jennifer Aniston fan site, under her belt.
Luciana shares some uplifting words:
“Celebrate your success(es) but never settle. On a contrasting note, don’t be too hard on yourself (we tend to as women). Don’t be afraid — or rather — welcome embarrassment and laughing at yourself. Laugh with others too, don’t subscribe to that ‘women must be stern and bitchy to succeed’ and make life, play. It’ll naturally attract others on the same wavelength. And who are willing to help. (but be selective with who you surround yourself with though, you are the sum of the 5 people you’re around).”
- Dr Sue Black [Techmums]
It’s hard to sum up this lady in a few sentences, but she’s a true inspiration to other women in tech. She left home at 16 and became a single mother to three children, ending up homeless. She’s now a well-known computer scientist and academic at UCL. Her first book, Saving Bletchley Park, was number one on Amazon and is the fastest book ever to be crowdfunded. As the title of her book suggests, she helped to save Bletchley Park, the World War II codebreaking site in Buckinghamshire. She runs an inspiring nonprofit group called Techmums, which empowers women by teaching them digital skills. Wow!
- June Angelides [Mums in Technology]
Mums in Technology founder June is another amazing woman in tech who found it a struggle to return to the world of work after having her first child (June is a tech banker!). Naturally, she decided to create her own solution to the problem by setting up Mums in Technology. It’s a child-friendly coding school that welcomes mums AND dads, and helps them learn essential tech skills to prepare them for the modern workplace. She’s warm and friendly, creating a positive role model for those women who may be unsure about whether you can have both children and a fulfilling career. June is proud of her family, embracing motherhood, femininity and work.
This is in no way an exhaustive list. There are so many women out there doing incredible things. Get in touch with me if you think there’s someone I should know about!
Learn from amazing women. Be inspired to embark on your own journey of discovery and adventure.
If we learn from each other, find out about one other’s stories, and create our own stories, we can change the world together.
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