Kate Russell addressed a room full of women and a couple of men, on the topic of Gender Bias in Technology. Like many women of her generation her love of technology is down to a man, in this case her brother. While there was no real sense of exclusion, people expected her to be into cooking and cleaning. She spoke about the importance of the expectation of parents, teachers, and schools, as having a powerful effect. She traced her interest in technology back to her brother being offered coding when she was offered home economics and needlework. She emerged from her education being able to roll a swiss roll and sew her name on an apron, “Presumably in case I forgot who the apron belonged to.” Meanwhile her brother was doing cool things.
Initially it didn’t occur to her that she was the only female in technology at work. She had no sense of oppression, and quickly gained the respect of male colleagues when she beat them in games. Her awareness started when she was asked for her female opinion . “What is your female perspective on the technology.?” To hold up someone’s gender as the defining characteristic on the way that they should think about anything at all, let alone technology, astounded her.
“Being a woman is such a small part of who I am.”
Some interesting things happened when the USA’s Young Re-wired State, tried to increase their female intake. Initially the number of girls applying ran at at 5%. When Emma Mulqueenyn tried to encourage more girls, by telling them how under-represented they were, the rate plummeted to 3%. But when they introduced Lily Cole as a kick-ass role model the intake went up to 28%.
Now which woman might do that for women on boards?
Kate shared with us her statistics and research, some of which are quite alarming. If 46% of the UK workforce (presumable omitting the housewives and carers), only 15% are in the STEM areas. Just 8% of engineer professionals are women, but surely the most alarming is that women statistics fall by point 5%, every year and have done for the last 10 years.
It was a great evening hosted by Nexmo, and organized by women-in-wireless. The name Anne Marie Imafidon should be more widely know. Founder of the STEMettes, a black woman, high achiever, from an early age. Just like Maggie Aderin-Pocock, space scientist and communicator. Two wonderful role models for women.
Another strong role model is in a similar discipline, is encouraging the take up of STEM subjects. Athene Donald British physicist, chairs the Athena forum, which aims to advance the career progression of women in Science, Technology, Mathematics, STEM in UK higher education. Astoundingly the Wiki entry manages to describe the whole movement without once mentioning “women”. Always stronger candidates.
Athene Donald writing for the Guardian:
“I challenge individuals to commit to ‘just one action for women in science’ – (#justiaction4WIS)
If you do not work in science, many of these suggestions are equally applicable across the workplace, whatever sector you are in.
- Call out bad behaviour whenever and wherever you see it – in committees or in the street. Don’t leave women to be victimized;
- Encourage women to dare, to take risks;
- Act as a sponsor or mentor (if you are just setting out there will still always be people younger than you, including school children, for whom you can act);
- Don’t let team members get away with demeaning behaviour, objectifying women or excluding anyone.”
These are just the first four. June 19th 2015.
Toward the end of Kate’s presentation she contrasted working environments and job applications, contrasting male/female versions.
Over all she strongly made the point, that the social constructs are subtle, not overtly oppressive, nor apparently excluding. It behoves us all to pay more attention.