Talking about any topic which has the slightest sniff of being related to political correctness is a tough one to discuss so I’m going try to guide my gargantuan feet through this minefield with some form of trepidation.
When you think of a developer what do you think?…A young man with greasy hair, a star wars t-shirt and questionable social skills? A man with buck teeth, thick rimmed glasses and a shirt and tie? A cool guy on his skateboard with a back pack full of secrets hacked from major corporates?
The truth is, I can say with near enough certainty that whatever you think of, it will be a male.
Why is that? Is it because that’s the way they are portrayed in television and films, or perhaps it’s because computer games seem to have a natural appeal to young boys so we associate this into adulthood and computer sciences?
I suppose nobody knows the reason but it is a fact that the world of IT and particularly the developer and support pools are dominated by males. My thoughts on this are that developers and support agents are the roles that people instantly think of when the IT industry is mentioned. Should we make more of an effort to talk about Sales, Account Management, Project Management, Business Analysis and the many other roles that there are in this industry? By doing this will the women of the world stop jumping to an aforementioned stereotype as a requirement for the role?
My boss…let’s call him **Alan** (his name is Ben)…asked me in my first week at slicedbread if I knew any competent female business analysts who would like to interview as slicedbread are very keen to encourage women into the industry and my answer was “no”. It wasn’t because the women I knew weren’t any good but because I just didn’t know any in a Business Analyst role – 10 years in the industry and I hadn’t crossed path with even one!
How should we solve this? Should we exercise some form of positive discrimination to dilute these testosterone filled waters (told you…trepidation)? My view is a categorical … NO.
In the GoT (that’s the Game of Technology not the better-known acronym of a certain television show) the same rules should apply as elsewhere – the best man (or woman) for the job wins. We need to change the way the industry is viewed, not the recruitment process, if we can change the perception of a developer then all areas of the industry will profit from a more diverse range of people.
Over the past decade of being in IT I can say that I have met perhaps 5 developers that fit any of the stereotypes. The developers at Slicedbread are the most qualified and skilled developers I have ever seen yet; they are kind, funny, family men who are brilliant team players and have a particular penchant for Sambuca.
Set aside for a moment this notion of ‘blame it all on the developer’ and let’s consider a few other possibilities:
Is it an industry which needs the strength of a man? No, not unless you are trying to carry around a PC in which case you are confused and perhaps want to switch it for a laptop (and change jobs);
Is it an industry in which there are harsh conditions to endure? Clients can be pretty frosty but that’s about as extreme as it gets;
Is it an industry which requires the specific way in which a man’s mind works? Well, if we get into the way in which a man’s mind works we could be here all day (trepidation…trepidation) so let’s assume not.
So we can accept that it’s none of the above and let’s get back to this notion that it is the picture of what is required which is driving the gender imbalance.
In the words of L’Oreal “Here comes the science” – The following graph is shown in a study on the Planet Money Website:
Focusing purely on the red line for computer science, it too attributes this sudden drop in women in computer science to be coinciding with the rise of computer games in the home and those being purchased predominantly for boys.
In 2015 BCS published a study stating that of the 1.18m IT specialists working in the UK only 17% of those were women. This figure sounds shocking enough but when you put that up against the fact that women form 47% of workforce as a whole, it shows that we just aren’t choosing IT as our calling in life.*
So I reiterate, whilst developers and support agents are the first roles that people think of when IT is mentioned, then they become the face of IT and at the moment the face is saying ‘computers are for boys’. If we change this and show the opportunities and challenges in the world of developers, then we will attract more women and this will open the oestrogen flood gates to the whole of the IT market.
About the author
Teresa is a Business Analyst at slicedbread and has a wealth of experience in delivering complex solutions to prestigious organisations such as the House of Commons, Wembley and the National History Museum.