Colin Crook is working with a range of organisations to run the inaugural SMART STEMs event in Glasgow on 3 June 2015. On International Girls in ICT Day, he shares his thoughts on why it is so important for more girls and women to influence STEM areas like computing.
This is written by a man who works in IT, a man who has always worked in IT, for IBM. I work mainly with men – in my own company and in my customers’ companies. You might be wondering why I care about the number of women working in IT?
The answer is that more women makes the industry better, the economy better and ultimately it makes people’s lives better. We need to do more to harness one of the Scotland’s most valuable assets. While there are many good initiatives to encourage more girls and women into computing, we need to do more to address the deficit – not just for IT but for all STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) areas. If we do this, we stand on the verge of something truly magnificent. Although my focus here is on IT, what I am saying holds equal validity for all STEM subjects.
More women makes good business sense
Reading my sweeping statements above, you may be thinking “yeah, how?” You might even be thinking “but, why?” I believe that women working in the IT industry can only be a good thing. It has been proven consistently that mixed gender teams work better than male dominated ones as reported in this New York Times article http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/18/opinion/sunday/why-some-teams-are-smarter-than-others.html. This translates not only into more work getting done, but more importantly better quality work.
Naturally, this has a positive impact on a company’s financial performance. According to research carried out by Catalyst, companies with more women on their board can deliver up to 42% better return on sales than companies with fewer female board members (http://www.catalyst.org/media/companies-more-women-board-directors-experience-higher-financial-performance-according-latest). If companies want to be the best, improving the gender balance in their workforce appears to be a no brainer.
Women represent the single largest demographic when it comes to buying power (see http://www.digitalsherpa.com/blog/men-or-women-who-has-the-most-buying-power-and-why-2/). I am not saying that every woman is going to be some sort of marketing genius but having equal representation at all levels is only going to have positive payback. If we manage to address the gap we could boost the UK economy by £2.6 billion a year. These are some of the reasons why more women is beneficial to the IT industry and economy, but the question is how do we do it?
Addressing unconscious bias
Despite a large number and variety of initiatives over many years, there are fewer women working in the IT industry than ever before. Reasons given for this are that computing isn’t interesting to women or that women don’t want to work in computing environments. For me, these are both indicative of a larger problem of attitudes which are reinforced by unconscious bias, highlighted in this Guardian article http://www.theguardian.com/women-in-leadership/2014/may/01/unconscious-bias-women-holding-back-work.
This bias is that, through societal, cultural and familial interaction, we form beliefs of what is right, for instance “computing is a boys thing …” or “boys are just better with computers …” One of the effects of unconscious bias is that men will tend to hire men with a similar background, which leads to a lack of diversity in the workplace and a lack of female role models, which in itself is a self-defeating loop. We all need to work at a fundamental level to challenge our own opinions and biases, conscious or otherwise, to make a real impact.
SMART STEMs – helping young women into STEM
I am working with a group of people from Seric Systems and third sector organisations, Beyonder and Women in Enterprise Scotland, to organise and run an event called SMART STEMs. Fundamentally, SMART STEMs 2015 aims to inspire 12 to 18 year old girls to become the great thinkers and creators of tomorrow. You can lfind out more by watching some of the partners on this STV video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IA6JeVSSupk.
In the weeks leading up to the event, we are holding a competition to design wearable technology for athletes. If you or your school would like to take part, have a look at http://www.smartstems.co.uk/ or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. The event is on Wednesday 3 June at Glasgow Caledonian University and we hope to create opportunities that are both fulfilling and have a lasting impact.