Beyond Ada: The Future Of Women In STEM

11/10/2016 16:43

Happy Ada Lovelace Day everyone! Today is a day to celebrate the incredible achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) who've come before us. It's also a day to look to the future.

Beyond Ada Lovelace herself, who is credited as the world's first computer programmer, many female innovators deserve celebration, yet many of us struggle to name them.

From the medical syringe and central heating to Kevlar and even the foundations for WiFi - there is no question that women have brought, and will continue to bring great innovations to the world we live in. But with women making up just 14.4% of the UK's STEM workforce in 2015, what would the technology industry - and the world - look like in 2050, if there were more women in STEM?

In a world with more female technologists, one thing we might expect to see is the creation of more products focused on improving the quality of life for the individual. According to a study by Carnegie Mellon University, women innovators put more emphasis on the importance of integrating technology with people.

Maybe one day a woman will develop a fitness tracker that not only monitors our wellbeing and provides proactive warnings to seek medical treatment, but will completely revolutionise and democratise healthcare globally. Or maybe we'll have a woman turn her attentions to harnessing the power of technology to help parents teach and educate their children, regardless of their own level of education.

Studies also show that women prefer more collaborative ways of working and building businesses. In a more gender diverse STEM industry, we might expect to see a focus on technologies that enable more collaborative forms of innovation - like holograms and virtual reality tools to give us a physical presence in online meetings.

In contrast to this vision of what could be possible if we encourage more women into STEM, what are the potential consequences of not getting the balance right?

Without diversity, we lose a crucial breadth of thought and perspective. We are all now familiar with the business case for diversity. Organisations with a varied and inclusive workforce are statistically more likely to perform better financially than their less diverse peers, as their work reflects the needs and realities of real world users.

In my role at Bloomberg, I see first-hand how our software development teams that approach problems from different perspectives are more successful at spotting issues, tackling challenges, innovating and securing opportunities. This is certainly no different in the broader world of STEM innovation.

When we consider the pool of future female talent in technology, it is clear there is still a lot of work to do. Although girls outperform boys in the majority of STEM subjects at GCSE level, the number of girls choosing to study STEM at A-levels and at university lags significantly behind that of their male counterparts.

It is fundamental that we get the gender balance right, not as a nod to equality, but because we need innovations that are reflective of our society's true needs.

There is some evidence to suggest we are heading in the right direction. According to the WISE campaign, there are more women taking STEM apprenticeships than ever before and in the last year, female directors of STEM companies in the UK increased by 3.3 per cent. But progress remains depressingly slow.

That is why at Bloomberg, we believe it is important to support industry-spanning initiatives to address the lack of women studying and participating in STEM. We are partnering with some fantastic organisations such as the WISE campaign, which promotes diversity in technical fields from the classroom to the boardroom.

So, although Ada Lovelace day is a celebration of everything we've accomplished so far - it's also a reminder that it's more important than ever to engage with the next generation of young women, and inspire them to pursue fulfilling careers in STEM.

Hopefully, in 2050, the conversation is less about recruiting more women into STEM, but about the amazing things that we can accomplish together in a truly diverse workplace.