Women in Tech

International Women's Day (IWD) 2021

5th March 2021
Joe Bush

Can you believe that in just a few weeks it is International Women’s Day again? It has come around quickly, considering the year we have had. Looking back to this time last year, little did we know what challenges we had ahead of us. So, with not much to look forward to at the moment, a celebration for an exceptionally good focal point is needed. Anna Flockett reports.

International Women’s Day is a global day designed to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. However, the day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity, as significant activity is witnessed worldwide as groups come together to celebrate women’s achievements or rally for women’s equality.

Fittingly, the theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is #ChooseToChallenge, something we have had to do a lot of recently, as well as being thrown into challenges that were out of our comfort zone, very unexpected, and were no fault of our own.

The world is full of challenges which need to be faced to evoke change. The International Women’s Day campaign states: “A challenged world is an alert world, and from challenge comes change. So let’s all choose to challenge.”

When you look at challenges they come in all shapes and sizes. For some a challenge is to climb Everest, but for others it is just to get through the day. Challenges are so personal to each individual, but are required to help you better yourself, give yourself the goal you need to keep going, and prove to yourself you can do more.

You may argue that women go through a larger number of challenges than their male counterparts, especially when it comes to certain industries and within their work lives. Take women in tech and women in STEM as an example - there have been many challenges here over the last 20 years or so, particularly in encouraging more women into these sectors.

The idea is that we should all be challenging gender bias and inequality. But it is our own choice whether we seek out and celebrate women’s achievements - if we do this, and do this all together, we can contribute to creating an inclusive world.

Women in tech

Technology is without a doubt a tool that can help create a better world and a brighter future for everyone, but as a sector, it has needed some help and a push when it comes to challenging gender equality.

Women tend to dismiss a career in technology for two main reasons - the first is that it isn’t really being presented to them as an option, and secondly when it is, there is not enough information on what working in the sector involves.

A major part of the problem is the lack of female role models, which essentially reinforces the perception that technology careers are not for women. In a recent study conducted by PwC, only 22% of students could name a famous female working in the tech sector, whereas two-thirds could name a famous male.

Is the sector too male dominated? Again, in the study from PwC it stated that over a quarter of female students said they’ve been put off a career in technology as it’s too male dominated.

The need to push for change has never been more prevalent than now. The big technology organisations need to take some responsibility and pull their weight in this challenge, but equally it is up to everyone. We need to highlight how technology is a force for good, and is relatable to everyone, of every gender, if we want to attract more women to the sector.

Women in manufacturing

Looking at a number of industries heavily affected by gender equality, how is the manufacturing industry holding up in comparison? To start with data experts BoldData shared that only 2.7% of manufacturing companies worldwide are led by women. When you break this down even further, they found that these women leaders were found primarily in manufacturing industries such as apparel, where 7.2% of CEOs were female, and jewellery, 6.75%. In heavy manufacturing only 1.3% of women are holding leadership positions, which is low compared to previous research.

Women in construction

As we delve into specific industries that traditionally have been male dominated, construction is one area where gender equality has certainly been lacking. Again BoldData found that just 1.4% of CEOs were female worldwide. The heavy construction areas including construction and civil engineering actually came out the lowest with just one percent of leadership roles being taken by women.

Challenging technology

As much as humans are held accountable for a lot of the gender inequalities within different sectors, it is also important that we challenge the bias in artificial intelligence. Although most of the time AI can appear neutral, it is created by humans, which essentially means that it will hold the same gender bias that we have. AI is just another form of human behaviour.

In fact, according to Harvard Business Review, a number of incidents of AI adopting gender bias qualities from humans have been recorded. Harvard Business Review cites an example of natural language processing (NLP) that is present in Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri.

Language plays a huge part in the bias within technology, and specifically AI. Take word-association - these systems can often associate ‘man’ with ‘doctor’ and ‘woman’ with ‘nurse’. Times have changed and adapted, and we have realised our behaviour can be biased and so these word associations no longer reflect our modern society.

This is just another example of the challenges we need to face head on to make a change. When it comes to AI we need to ensure that the training that is undergone in creation is as diverse as possible with gender, but also with other factors such as age, ethnicity, sexuality etc. This can be achieved by ensuring the people developing AI are from different backgrounds, ages and are diverse.

There are a number of areas and industries that need to be challenged for change. Technology, and in particular AI, are certainly one of many sectors, but have just been pinpointed for the sake of this piece. However, highlighting the lack of women in technology, and the flaws that tech holds, it seems like a sensible place to start.

Choosing to challenge

The idea of choose to challenge is a very poignant one, not just for the industries that need to work harder when it comes to gender equality, but also with the current climate and the huge challenges almost everyone has been through over the past year. The choose to challenge campaign is a reminder to everyone and not just women, that when you do challenge something and push yourself, you can make a difference and can make a massive change.

International Women’s Day 2021 will take place, as it does every year, on the 8th March, and no matter what you have going on, I hope you will join me in taking a little break from the madness of the world, and have a think about what you want to challenge, and what changes you want to see. Small challenges can lead to big change.

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