The astonishing achievements of the code breakers in Bletchley Park in The Imitation Game are set to fascinate and amaze yet another generation. Benidict Cumberbatch’s portrayal of Alan Turing will undoubtedly spark new pilgrimages to the wooden huts in Buckinghamshire in which a British mathematician and his team broke the Nazis Enigma ciphers.
Inevitably to tell this story it has been simplified. Kiera Knightley, Cumberbatch’s costar appears as a solitary female code breaker in an otherwise all male cast. Having in mind that Bletchley had a population of 12000, 8000 being women hence the ratio 2:1. When Clarke arrives to take the test Turing has designed in order to identify the brightest cryptologists, she is repeatedly told to head to another room where women are applying to be sectaries. Once she’s allowed to stay she emerged the first in completing the puzzle.
“The experience of women, whether they like to admit it or not, is that being viewed as different has meant being viewed as deficient or deviant” (Rosener, 1995, p.105). Despite the fact that women are capable and have a historical track record for contributing to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields, they remain substantially underrepresented.
Let me start by saying: If women don’t belong in technology then it remains irrelevant to the needs of the society. If technology doesn’t make space for them,then it will become marginalized as other fields expand their territory to seek out women. But it has not been easy for women to have a presence in tech – and the challenges women have faced throughout the years remain true today despite attempts to address some of the obstacles. Challenges faced by women in STEM include but not limited to:
FEWER PROMOTIONS AND LEADERSHIP APPOINTMENTS
Images, symbols and systems of belief have continued to link STEM with men and masculinity, and separate it from women and femininity. In addition women in STEM fields are less likely than men to be employed in the industrial sector and rarely hold management, senior management or corporate officer roles. Just by nature in being in a minority, women stand out more is such disciplines than their male counterparts, which makes their mistakes seem greater.
NOT ENOUGH VISIBLE MENTORS
We spend so much time reading and talking about Carl Benz forgetting that there was a Mary Anderson in the completion of the first modern car. Movies like The Internship and mainstream media has created a misleading image of who make up the tech-industry. Techies are portrayed as a bunch of suited guys typing obsessively at their laptops fueled by caffeine and cigarettes.
Women have less organizational clout. The fact that they start in low-level positions post MBA makes it a real disadvantage in career advancement. It’s discouraging for new female hires not to see anyone of the same gender who has been in the industry for more than five years.
THE DOCTRINE THAT TECH IS MEANT FOR MALE
Society has made stereotypes seem so natural and right not knowing they kill interest at a very young age. Changing the numbers of female tech nerds needs to begin at the root itself, these numbers decrease in levels of education. Finally we have fewer female graduates in STEM fields.
WOMEN HAVE NO ENCOURAGEMENT TO BE TECH ENTREPRENEURS
My neighbor who is taking her finals in computer science comes to me to vent out her sleepless nights when studying for exams. So I asked her why she did the course at first. She tells me, “I don’t even know what job I can get with my degree.”
EMOTION AND NURTURING SKILLS
Think like a man act like a lady. I guess Tyler Perry had a point here. For women a business is more than the bottom line. We get emotionally connected and that can hold us back from making tough decisions, instead we try making relationships and forget to be direct and focus in business goals.
FEAR OF FAILURE
Work hard at ignoring the inner voice that may discourage action, speaking up or getting out your comfort zone.”You need to have massive failure to have massive success”. Passi said. The truth is if you’re not failing you’re not trying out new things.
THE NEED FOR PERFECTION
This strategy is demoralizing and self-limiting. Women are expected to tick the full checklist of skills and qualities needed before starting a business. Men on the other hand are less hard on themselves.The female need for perfection hinders them from making progress in entrepreneurship.
LACK OF INTEREST IN TECH
Among the top tech sites in Kenya like Techweez.com, Techmoran.com and our very own Kanywanya.com, readers by gender are in the following ratios 60% male, 90% male and 75% male respectively as compared to entertainment sites like Ghafla and Mpasho both of which have readers at 55% being male. Among those interviewed recently for a tech blogging position at Kachwanya.com, all male applicants were familiar with the local tech sites but only one female had a similar knowledge. Question is why do we have gender imbalance when it comes to interest in tech content?
Factors such as discrimination, harassment or unequal pay could be significant contributors to gender gap in tech, but the the real reason is that most women aren’t as interested in technology and STEM in general as men. It’s a choice, and women seem to choose other fields.
We simply do not have enough women choosing tech careers. Nearly two-thirds of female teens have never considered a career in engineering. It turns out that 74% of teens who considered engineering did so after being told the economic benefits and impact they can have on the world. Clearly we have numbers problem.
WHAT SHOULD HAPPEN?
Increasing visibility of both female leaders and male champions for gender equality will accelerate progress. The role of women in the tech industry is viewed traditionally as less valuable. Appreciation for the various positions that are held within the success of the overall organization will impact the tech industry considerably.
There is a need to instill confidence in women that they too can make breakthroughs in tech. Confidence is something that is neither taught nor learned but you can practice if women had that urge to stop the “Hero mentality”. Where people work very hard to fix problems after they happen.Women are better at identifying and rectifying problems before they happen. But this is seen to be less hard and crucial.
“Any country where half their population is not allowed to reach their full potential is not going to be competitive”, said Bill Gates. If we fail to act, then we suffer from the underutilization of talent. It doesn’t sound like something any of us wants.
“Women and girls run the risk of being left behind in scientific and technological fields if countries do not put measures in place to address discrimination and change traditional attitudes. This gap constitutes an obstacle to national progress” said the United Nations. Women seem to be overrepresented in humanities and underrepresented in science and technology. Measures need to be put in place to redress this imbalance.
The gap between men and women in the scientific and tech fields is linked to pervasive gender roles and attitudes in different societies. It is up to women to stand firm in full participation in these fields.