According to a survey by global IT recruitment company, Pearson Frank, women only make up 11% of the software developer workforce.
As a Developer, Principal Consultant and Business Partner of an IT consultancy I’m therefore very much in a minority and it’s an often asked question in all STEM areas ‘how can we change this balance?’ ‘What can we do to help?’
Unfortunately being “helped” is not all roses and sunshine. Experience has shown me that empowering intent is at the core of help that can manifest change for the better, and that some form of “help” can instead perpetuate situations such as inequality and stereotypes.
If you Google this term, your search results will come up with “positive thinking” or “positive mindset.” I used this term a while back in an International Women’s Day blog post where I shared some advice about how, who, what has challenged and supported my tech journey.
For me, the concept of “positively helped” centres around receiving support that on the outside looks like it will more easily support your journey, career, dreams, goals, personal and professional growth but in reality diminishes the opportunity to reach or achieve full potential.
The most discriminated I’ve ever felt throughout my tech journey was when I was being ‘‘positively helped.” I was at a university open day prior to going to uni in the UK and was the only female in the computer science talk.
The lecturer was asked ‘What grades do you need to get in?’
His reply: ‘3 A’s, oh apart from you (pointed at me). You only need to get 3 C’s because you’re female.’
With that one “positively helped” comment, the lecturer made sure everyone there would look at the females on their course and think ‘Ha, bet her grades weren’t as good as mine, I’m better.’
And for any girl that did get 3 C’s and went there, they’d probably be getting lower grades than their counterparts as they didn’t have the same skill level to start with, reinforcing the stereotypes.
For the record I didn’t go to that University and I did get 3 A’s.
In this situation, some might think that lowering the grade standards for women in a male dominated course could generate positive results - contributing to a more gender balanced course and essentially more women in the tech workforce.
But this kind of solution doesn’t change the status quo and the real challenge of not enough women in technology. Instead it becomes a band aid solution that doesn't solve the real issues that require changing for real change to happen - attitude, leadership, having positive role models to inspire more women to enter tech, a safe and respectful environment to learn and work in.
Let’s compare that to another form of help that I received throughout my life. I have a Dad who has simply never had a concept of stereotyping but instead rolled with what his kids' passions were and assumed that I could do anything he could.
He had no real interest in computers but bought one when I was 8 because I did - I learnt to code by reading the user manual which was basically a ‘how to code in Basic.’
He also brought home a Star Wars figure from every overseas trip he did, carefully noting which ones I didn’t yet have and never thinking to ask if I wasn’t sure I’d rather have a Barbie and his housewarming present when I bought my first home was a drill and a toolbox - both of which were invaluable.,
Next up was my school which was incredibly progressive when it came to IT. We learnt to code from the age of 6! We progressed from Dr Logo and programming robots to draw on whiteboards to programming mainframes in Pascal as we hit our mid teens. If you want to understand how progressive this was, we were an all girl school in the 1980s and it was compulsory to sit one of our high school exams in Computer Studies which was unheard of elsewhere.
Fast forward a while and I married a man who has always assumed I can do anything he can. He never thinks twice about asking me to tow our boat or take the steering wheel when we go off road driving.
When asked if he was sad he hadn’t had a son (we have two girls) my husband’s reply was ‘Why? There’s nothing I would do with a son that I haven’t been able to do with Lindsey’. This isn’t because I’m superwoman, it’s just that he, and every other male role model I’ve had, assumes I can so I don’t assume I can’t.
Being surrounded by this attitude throughout my life means it’s never crossed my mind to walk into a room assuming I couldn’t do what my male counterparts or colleagues could do.
Getting more women into IT, or STEM, or anything else we’re in the minority of doesn’t start with helping at the point we’re adults and doesn’t start with just our attitudes. It starts by making every child feel that any career option is an option for them, whether it’s a girl wanting to be a rocket scientist or a boy wanting to be a beauty consultant and continuing to support that throughout their lives.
There is a similar focus at the moment on why more women aren’t at higher managerial roles or Board level.
For me, my career stalled when I had children which is a common story for many mothers. I wanted to be there after school which meant being part time and I was incredibly lucky to work at a company that was open minded to this and enabled me to continue up the career ladder while still being part time.
I currently work as a Principal Consultant and Business Partner for an IT Consultancy based in Perth, WA called Interfuze Consulting.
One of the main things that stand out for me here is the “real” support when it comes to creating a change in the workplace that supports not only women, but also working parents and young people to succeed.
“Real” support starts with working with your managers and/or leadership team to challenge the way things are, such as:
When you start to see these measures of real support in the workplace, you start to realise how you can implement change against all types of stereotypes - in the classroom (imagine that lecturer providing the option for extra tutorials to support everyone and anyone to achieve all A’s, regardless of gender, and creating a welcoming and supportive learning environment) - or in our everyday communities.