Based on a paradoxical observation regarding the presence of women in digital professions and the lack of a concerted drive for change, I’d like to share the glimmer of hope I have seen for the coming generations.
It’s no secret that stereotypes die hard. All too often, boys are told they should pursue careers in technology, while girls are encouraged to consider female-dominated industries. They are outdated, old-fashioned and absurd, yet these attitudes persist in the minds of many people. Curiously, many companies have made gender diversity a major part of their communication strategies and demonstrate a real willingness to act. In fact, women are more likely to succeed in job interviews and are given priority over their male counterparts, with equal competencies, in IT professions. That’s right, there are not enough women in the digital industry!
At the Aston school (SQLI Group), where we now welcome more than 1000 students each year, exclusively in IT, we shout for joy when we have just one or two girls in a class of 20 students. When they come for the entrance exam, we roll out the red carpet.
Digital professions are certainly not tough or physically-demanding, plus there is a great variety of jobs available in the industry.
So where does the problem lie?
While they may have the best intentions in the world, career counsellors are often out of their depth. They do not necessarily know the field and sometimes provide poor guidance for girls (and boys as it happens) when it comes to jobs in our industry. Elsewhere, attitudes are slow to change: why, for example, do we instinctively buy pink dolls as gifts for little girls and toy fire engines for little boys at Christmas? Things have changed slightly, but at a slow pace. For a long time, society has taught us to create divisions along gender lines.
There are associations and initiatives out there. The scheme Les Femmes du Numérique (Women in Digital) is one of them. Several awareness-raising campaigns are appearing in primary and secondary schools. Despite these efforts, there are still few young women in IT at higher education establishments and, as a result, in our companies. Furthermore, these campaigns tend to make the lack of women visible, which could lead to them being stigmatised even more.
Parents are generally keen for their children to pursue promising career paths, so they can find an interesting job with a comfortable salary. Such career paths can be found in IT. Are they aware of this? Perhaps awareness needs to be raised among parents.
So where is the “glimmer of hope”?
It comes from the very youngest children! Each year, in cities in France and around the world, teams of passionate people introduce many children to programming, IT logic and robotics. They are more than happy to get involved in workshops, either by curiosity, for the challenge or to discover a new game. They leave with stars in their eyes, itching to pursue the adventure and tell their friends about it. The incredible and optimistic observation that I want to share with you is that there are now as many girls as boys among these young children. We can look forward to them growing up.
It is up to us – parents, employers and anyone who is passionate about or uses IT – to make sure that the stars in their eyes keep on shining bright and that, in the future, there are as many women as men in our companies. After all, passion does not have a gender.
By Corinne Combes-Tavergnes, Director of the Aston School – SQLI Group