Where are all the women coders?
Kate Jillings, Founder of tech company, ToucanTech has said that despite all the work being done to encourage women into STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) careers, coding remains a very male-dominated world. Kate builds community and fundraising software used primarily in schools and other educational institutions which enables them to manage all their community activities in one place.
For example, ToucanTech software powers the Crick Institute’s alumni community where 1,000 biomedical research scientists stay connected. Scientists and staff across the Crick have set aside their normal work to volunteer expertise and facilities for testing and research, to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Speaking on BBC Radio Devon to mark British Science Week, Kate said that half her 40-strong workforce, many of them software engineers, is made up of women. Nevertheless, she finds it difficult to find women coders: "We have to really search out the applicants that come through or we make proactive attempts to find them."
She said: "There are many more opportunities for women in science than 20, 30, 40 years ago." Societal perceptions aren’t the issue they used to be, but women still faced challenges, she said.
"The way women‘s role is with their children: it’s really tough to multi-task and juggle in that type of [scientific] environment."
She said the fact that women had been shown to do more home-schooling tasks than men during COVID-19 lockdowns was a case in point. Kate admitted that if she could turn back time, she would have done more science at school. "I’m 40. Science was taught in a very traditional way."
She admitted that the main attraction of her science classes wasn’t the subject matter: "I remember doing very, very basic computer science classes as a teenager. The only reason we went was because the classroom overlooked the boys’ football team next door!"
She added that times had changed and computer science is taught in a much more interactive and immersive way. Kate said that some of the hundreds of schools ToucanTech works with choose to raise funds for tech facilities. "They want to digitally enable their pupils and make their schools better equipped."
For example, Tonbridge School, in Kent, has fundraised to build a centre for science teaching. And at Aylesbury School in Buckinghamshire, the school community is fundraising for the refurbishment of Art, DT and Engineering facilities. The school is now just £40,000 short of the total £450,000 cost of the refurbishment.
In Devon, alone, ToucanTech works with West Buckland School, Mount Kelly, Dartmoor Multi Academy Trust and Colyton Grammar.