As someone who works in the technology sector, it’s clear to me that there are far fewer women than men working in the industry. Women have been underrepresented in the STEM sectors (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) for decades, so this is not a surprise. Only 15.5% of the UK's STEM employees (excluding medicine) are women.
Intel, the processor giant, commissioned a report in 2013 called ‘Women and the web’ that unveiled some depressing findings. For example, one in five women in India and Egypt believe the internet is not appropriate for them, and overall almost 25% fewer females have access to the internet compared to males.
There are many explanations for the gender gap in technology, but ability isn’t one of them. Recent research released by Thinkful, a company that runs online coding courses, showed that there was no statistical difference between the performance of men and women on their coding courses. The biggest difference was the ratio of men to women applying for the courses - only about 20% of the applicants were women.
To try and address this, Thinkful experimented with Facebook adverts, targeting female users and trying out different advert styles to encourage women applicants. The success rate was much lower than for adverts targeting male users.
One organisation that has successfully been getting women into programming is Rails Girls. Having started up in Finland, Rails Girls is now a global non-profit volunteer community that has taught women programming skills in over 100 cities across the world.
The founder of Rails Girls, Linda Liukas, is hoping to encourage women into programming at an early age. She’s writing a new book aimed at young girls, about 5 to 7 years old, called ‘Hello Ruby’. The book is split in two. One part is story-driven, where Ruby makes friends with animals like penguins and leopards and they solve problems together. The other part is a workbook used to introduce programming concepts like variables and loops to the young readers.
There is a Kickstarter campaign to fund the book. Linda Liukas set a target of $10,000 to fund the book via the crowdsourcing website, but has far exceeded her target, with the level of funding currently running at around $300,000.
It remains to be seen how successful these efforts will be, but getting more women into coding will be a key part of improving the representation of women in the STEM sectors.