In almost every society, children experience gender stereotyping from an early age. They are not born with biases, yet these are shaped and influenced by their parents, teachers, peers, family members and the media.
It often begins at home, when girls may be expected to play with dolls and toy kitchen sets, while boys play with cars and more technical toys. By the time they reach the classroom, not only are their peers affected by stereotypes, teachers could be shaping them even further.
Recent research found that around 57% of teachers admitted they made subconscious stereotypes about girls and boys in relation to STEM subjects. This has the potential to put girls off studying STEM further and choosing a career related to these subjects.
Addressing the diversity gap
In Europe, only 24 out of every 1,000 female graduates studied ICT related fields – and only six end up working in the digital sector. For male graduates, it is 92 out of every 1,000, of which 49 go onto jobs in the digital sector. Of the small percentage of girls in school that choose these subjects, the numbers continue to dwindle the further along they get – both in education and the careers they pursue.
There are various reasons why this happens. By exploring them, we can better understand how to improve both recruitment and retention to improve diversity in the industry.
When we look at the global rates of women that leave STEM careers, the gender gap is evident – 53% of women, compared with 31% of men. This particular study found that the work experiences which caused women to leave included hostile male-dominated work environments, isolation and a lack of mentors or sponsors. Recognising the importance of culture, as well as benefits of diversity and inclusion, is an important step for organizations that may be experiencing a similar situation.
This is demonstrated in research from the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) – 3,200 men and women from multinational STEM organizations were surveyed to compare their views on personal and culture values. The differences in values were not dissimilar, however, more women reported less confidence in the company’s direction and frustration around accountability within teams. In addition, some key elements of engagement were missing, such as coaching/mentoring, balance, continuous improvement and empowerment. The dissatisfaction was echoed in a report by Deloitte, where women felt they were being overlooked for leadership roles and found that 'persistent gender stereotypes inhibited growth'.
The different experiences are a reminder of the 'double bind' that exists for women in leadership. This is the series of unconscious, interlocking stereotypes about men, women and the nature of leadership. We’ve seen how it begins at home and in the classroom, and it takes involvement from different groups and organisations to address and disband these stereotypes.
If the last ten years have taught us anything, it’s that nimble start-ups and disruptors have forced businesses to do some self-reflection. Every business must become an agile software business in order to succeed. 100-year old businesses have faced a complex journey to their digital transformation. New entrants to the workforce that have grown up with technology are changing the way we work and think about the benefits of transformation. Being built for change is the goal.
However, the lack of diversity in STEM roles is hindering our ability to be ready for change and make the most of new technologies.
It’s not only about looking for opportunities to invest in diversity but committing to making the change. This is one of the reasons that we became a founding signatory of the UK’s Tech Talent Charter (TTC) last year. Since it was launched, hundreds of organisations (including the government) have joined. As part of this commitment, we pledge to adopt inclusive recruitment processes, working towards a goal that, wherever possible, women are included on the shortlist for interviews. I strongly encourage organizations in the UK to become signatories and join in the effort to drive diversity and address gender imbalance in tech roles.
It is well established that more diverse workforces deliver better results. But diversity goes beyond gender – it encompasses race, disability, experience and peoples’ backgrounds. People with different experiences in life bring diverse ideas and methods to solve problems. The result is greater discussion and debate within teams, which ultimately leads to creative solutions with more thought behind them.
Identifying our bias
From a young age, girls sense they face different expectations compared to boys and feel a pressure to adjust their behaviour accordingly. Parents and teachers have much potential to be influential role models to eliminate gender stereotyping. A crucial step towards making a positive impact as role models, is to understand our own biases. Only then, can we understand the impact it can have, from recruitment to team projects, to our personal lives. At CA, we have encouraged this heightened self-awareness by rolling out unconscious bias training session opportunities to all employees in Europe.
By 2025, it is expected that there will be 8.2 million new STEM jobs in Europe, and research indicates that narrowing the gender gap has the potential to boost EU GDP by up to €820 billion by 2050. The tech industry must recognize that substantial change needs to happen. This is not the responsibility of one person or even one organization. It is the collective responsibility of our society, and therefore we must build a multi-stakeholder collaboration. Together, we can generate a more inclusive society that incorporates careers of the future.