THE BLOG

Gender Equality Needs to Happen Across Every Industry, Tech is Just the Starting Point

26/11/2015 15:48 GMT | Updated 26/11/2016 10:12 GMT

"I'll do what everybody does - sell this start-up just before we have to hire a female employee," read the caption on a recent New Yorker cartoon depicting a bunch of guys working on their laptops and playing ping-pong.

Of course, that cartoon was meant to be satirical, but it could be argued that this boys' club attitude within the tech industry isn't a joke. On the surface, it appears tech companies have become trapped in their own paradox: instead of living up to their forward-thinking reputation, many are going backwards by adopting an out-dated approach to gender equality. But the reason why there are so few women in tech is likely to be much more deep-rooted.

Sapna Cheryan, a psychology professor at the University of Washington, dug a little deeper when she looked into why girls are less likely to take up tech-related subjects in school (like computer science). She discovered that the majority of girls had pre-conceived notions that tech was for geeks, a word often bounded around negatively.

As the stereotype goes, geeks are weird and socially inept. All you have to do is look at TV, news and the other elements of popular culture to find out why. Think back to watching cartoons like Dexter's Lab and you'll notice how from a young age we are fed the notion that geeks are unfashionable. But where did this come from and why are we still adhering to it? After all, why should your gender determine your career path? This is 2015.

Tech isn't the only industry with high levels of gender inequality. Take nursing, for example, where a huge 91% of registered nurses in the US are women. Why? Again, look back to when you where a child, if you were a boy you'd probably dress up as a fireman, policeman or the like. If you were a little girl, you'd have been a nurse. This issue goes deeper than one industry and it's important that we make sure gender shouldn't determine your career path across the board, not just in tech.

Tech is, however, a fantastic starting point, as it's an industry that affects all of our lives significantly. That's probably why the lack of gender diversity in tech is garnering mass media attention - and so it should. To promote gender equality in technology, we must change the tech industry's image - whether that's by creating more gender neutral workspaces, making geek cool or separating the word from technology altogether.

Positive, successful female role models are a fantastic way of to inspire young women to enter the world of tech. And all you have to do is look at the likes of Sheryl Sandberg at Facebook, Marissa Meyer at Yahoo and Eileen Burbidge Tech City's UK chair who are already paving the way to a brighter future with equal opportunities for both sexes.

I'm proud to work for a company that champions women in tech: Engage Works's Innovation Executive, Support Engineer and Flux Coordinator are all brilliant women. Initiatives like Google's Codegirl are also encouraging young women to get excited about coding, in a much-needed re-brand of the tech industry.

Let's face it, more appealing opportunities and a vaster array of courses will do nothing but increase the chances of balancing the gender books. As the New York Times recently pointed out, where are women in tech going to come from if girls don't pick computer science or engineering as a university degree?

It's refreshing to see that these initiatives are starting to pay off. Start-up accelerator, MassChallenge, recently announced that 39 per cent of their global start-ups from Boston and London have at least one female founder.

While the sketch in the New Yorker might not be funny to all, the open acknowledgement that there are prejudices within this industry is already an important step towards gaining equality for women in technology.

It's by breaking old-school stereotypes and sparking girls' interest in technology from day one that we will start to see more women in tech - from there, things will only continue to improve and are already beginning to.