🇧🇷 Underrepresented in tech, women offer solutions
Gender prejudice, structural conditions incompatible with family life, glass ceiling or funding inequality, so many reasons that lead to the lack of women in technology. Several initiatives conceived by women try to reverse the trend.
“When I arrived at my first computer course, taught by a group of independent hackers, all men, I was first asked if I was in the wrong room,” says Lennig Pedron, director of Trust Valley. An example that in itself illustrates the lack of women in the technology sector.
According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), they represent about 40% of the STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) workforce, 28% in the technology sector. A representation that shrinks the higher you go up the floors. According to data from Credit Suisse’s latest Gender 3000 study of 3,000 listed companies, in 2021, they were 17% on management and 20% on boards of technology companies. These are the lowest levels among the analyzed sectors.
However, it was not always like this. in your book the forgotten digital, Isabelle Collet, former computer scientist and researcher in education sciences at the University of Geneva, recalls that there were not always so many disparities. In the 1980s, women made up 30-40% in computer science schools, before rising to 10-15% today. “Once computing became synonymous with symbolic and material power through prestigious, high-paying jobs, it became a component of hegemonic Western masculinity,” she writes.
“Once computing became synonymous with symbolic and material power through prestigious, high-paying jobs, it became a component of Western hegemonic masculinity.”
Isabelle Collet, Researcher in Educational Sciences at the University of Geneva
For Edith Schnapper, head of the Swiss TecLadies mentoring program at the SATW Swiss Academy of Technical Sciences and member of the GrilsCodeToo committee, the disparity stems above all from the different socialization of girls and boys. “Various studies prove that up to the age of 6-7, girls and boys are equally interested in technology. Claiming otherwise is relying on essentialist arguments without scientific basis,” she points out.
A situation that has its roots in education. While caution and discretion are readily encouraged in girls, boys are encouraged to take risks, be brave and daring. A phenomenon identified by sociologists as the “learned orientation of interests”. The interests developed by the child depend mainly on society’s expectations regarding gender. Expectations that he ends up integrating before conforming to them. “If my mother was terrible at math, I was terrible too: these limiting beliefs lead to the perpetuation of traditional gender roles,” adds Edith Schnapper.
To reverse the trend, she encourages better training of parents and teachers on unconscious gender bias. “This also involves thinking about the arrangement of social spaces, especially in the leisure areas. Built around the ball games, the boys occupy most of the available field while the girls are sent to peripheral spaces. Later they will feel less legitimate to occupy the space, for example, public speaking.
“Many parents come to me saying they don’t want their daughter to become a geek, antisocial. You don’t have to be a programmer to work in tech, there are many different jobs in the industry.”
Geraldine Zahnd, founder of Digital Kidz
Founder of Digital Kidz, a platform that brings together the most diverse activities – games, apps, robots, courses and events in Switzerland – to introduce new technologies to children aged 4 and up, Géraldine Zahnd claims to see the same enthusiasm in her content with girls from than with boys. It was during her stay in Silicon Valley, where her children, then in kindergarten, tested programming games developed by start-ups, that she had the idea of launching her association. Offer that she completes with activity books on artificial intelligence, programming, internet or metaverse and soon extracurricular workshops for the Bern region.
“Many parents come to me saying they don’t want their daughter to become a geek, antisocial. You don’t have to be a programmer to work in technology, there are many different jobs in the industry,” she says.
It is precisely this diversity that Lennig Pedron fights to defend with the NGO Icon, which she co-founded. During a round table organized on November 24th with DIP, she will present the various points of sale in the sector. With her on stage, only women. “We need to highlight more female roles. The change in mindset starts with this type of initiative.”
One in two women leave the industry
While tech employs few women, it also struggles to retain them: one in two women leave tech after eight years. With less than 30% of the workforce female, corporate cultures often remain hostile to women. In a study on the state of gender equality in technology, published by Web Summit in early November, half of respondents said they had faced sexism in their workplace, while nearly 40% felt having to make a choice between family life and the career. Added to this are the difficulties in gaining access to promotions, as well as salary differences. According to the 50inTech study, women’s salaries in the technology sector are on average 20% lower than those of men.
🇧🇷[Aux États-Unis,] funding for female-led or co-ed founding teams dropped from 16.9 to 14.4 percent. Women secured just 2.3% of venture capital funds in 2020.”
Janneke Niessen, co-founder of CapitalT
A disparity that is also reflected in fundraising. The Credit Suisse study notes that venture capital remains less accessible to female entrepreneurs. 🇧🇷[Aux États-Unis,] funding for female-led or co-ed founding teams dropped from 16.9 to 14.4 percent. Women received just 2.3% of venture capital funds in 2020, down 0.5 percentage points from 2019,” writes Janneke Niessen, co-founder of CapitalT, in the report. The values obtained are from 15 to 49% lower in comparison with the male teams. While the representation of women entrepreneurs has improved over the last five years, companies founded by women are generally smaller, with lower revenues and valuations. “At this rate, the global gap won’t close until 2031,” said Sara Carnazzi Weber, an analyst at Credit Suisse.
More than the establishment of quotas, which are counterproductive for women and for companies, she believes, it is the conditions of the labor market that must be improved. “During the pandemic, there has been a sharp increase in telecommuting, which has accelerated the shift to more flexible work. The first figures on the attitudes of men and women in relation to telework show, however, that there are still differences in the acceptance of these forms of work. Women are more in favor of it and, although the flexibility of work can increase the participation rate, as long as it is not accepted in the same way by men, it can be an obstacle to career advancement, as it makes networking difficult and increases isolation.” The greatest disparity is also seen in Switzerland, where 46% of female researchers work part-time versus 24% of men.
“While work flexibility can increase the participation rate, as long as it is not accepted equally by men, it can be a barrier to career advancement because it makes networking difficult and increases isolation.
Sara Carnazzi Weber, analyst at Credit Suisse
Setting diversity bonus goals, establishing pay scales, creating a label that recognizes “female-friendly” tech companies, or strengthening parental arrangements are among other solutions mentioned.
AI, Bias Amplifier
Attracting women and keeping them in the industry is critical because the technologies that will rule the world of tomorrow are being developed today. “Women have a lot to contribute in the development of applications to better manage family life, such as shared agendas with children’s activities, for example, which men would not necessarily think about”, points out Géraldine Zahnd.
“This disparity contributes to creating blind spots. Sexist recruitment algorithms reject female profiles, apps around women’s health are dysfunctional, not to mention cybersecurity where women are less recognized.
Lennig Pedron, director of Trust Valley
“This disparity contributes to creating blind spots, stresses Lennig Pedron. Sexist recruitment algorithms reject female profiles, apps around women’s health are dysfunctional, not to mention cybersecurity where women are less recognized. ONE gender data gap that feeds the inequalities that are then reproduced by artificial intelligence. This is just an amplifier of our representations, writes Isabelle Collet.
A better representation of women in technology will not, however, be enough to deconstruct the dynamics of domination, notes Jessica Pidoux, a researcher at the Center for European Studies at Sciences Po Paris and an expert on algorithms – she wrote her memoirs about those on Tinder. “Even feminist apps like Adopt a Guy, developed by women, reproduce the patriarchal model where it is the man who pays and filters the search, right down to the choice of underwear color. Women, therefore, reproduce this discourse, sometimes involuntarily or consciously. It will take time to deconstruct it.”
“Even feminist apps like Adopt a Guy, developed by women, reproduce the patriarchal model where it is the man who pays and filters the search, right down to the choice of underwear color.”
Jessica Pidoux, Researcher at the Center for European Studies at Sciences Po Paris
For Line Pillet, president of the SME Women’s Committee of French-speaking Switzerland and director of the Institute of Entrepreneurship and Management at HES-SO Valais, this deconstruction can only take place by including men in the process. “We always make sure to create mixed teams to benefit from a diversity of skills. This year, within the Bachelor Team Academy, designed to inspire young people to undertake, more than half of those enrolled are female students.”
“There is a big shift in the younger generation. The women we support through the Tech4Trust incubation program are bolder to assert themselves. They know that they will be among those who can make decisions. They will not give up”, concludes Lennig Pedron.
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