Fighting sexual harassment in STEM - with STEM
What does it mean to be a woman in tech? It means a lot of work needs to be done in order for this question to someday become irrelevant.
You are reading Part I of II of this Series
According to the United Nations, less than 30% of scientific researchers worldwide are women. The gender gap in science diverges between countries in Europe: 40.2% of researchers in Spain are women, and only up to 28.0% of them are women in female-led countries, such as Germany.
The numbers are no different in the booming tech sector which attracts billions of venture capital funding. Despite these sizable donations, women are still missing out, making up just 20% of the IT workforce in the UK. The Wise campaign for gender balance in tech and engineering, reveals that this trend has remained constant for 10 years in a row.
Oftentimes, sex discrimination and harassment in tech is why women are inclined to leave the field. A past survey conducted by Harvard Business Review found out that women in tech are 45% more likely than their male colleagues to leave the industry within their first year.
Boosting STEM careers
Despite a lack of recognition from the scientific community and efforts to put them out of the picture, numerous women leaders in their scientific field have made enormous contributions to science and have helped advance the understanding of the world we live in. Most of them were not recognised in their lifetime or will never be, but they surely have paved the way for generations to come.
They built the modern era of coding and unveiled the structure of the DNA for the first time. Their work inspired - and still does - environmental movements and has led to new discoveries. They broke the sound barrier and now aim to break the glass ceiling once and for all.
Their stories must be shared in order to inspire young women to pursue careers in science. It is because of their presence that women and girls are potentially encouraged to opt for a role and more companies would warmly welcome them as well.
The UNESCO report Cracking the Code: Girls and Women’s Education in STEM shows that gender differences in interests and participation are already manifested in early childhood schooling, but they become more visible at higher levels of education. In 2018, the proportion of female graduates in the fields of engineering and computer science, at 15%, demonstrates that there’s still a lot more to improve.
“Playfulness and curiosity at an early age is key to build a path in which kids can grow and learn equally” - UNESCO Report
Numbers are still shocking, even though 53% of all students entering STEM Bachelor's Degrees are women and 55% continue to pursue a Master’s degree, approximately 1 in 5 of them do not go on to becoming doctorates and only 29% join the R&D workforce.
Thus, the fundamental question to be asked is why women are so underrepresented in STEM and what can we do as a society to change that.
Several initiatives exist, such as Women and Engineering, organised by the Royal Academy of Engineering in Spain that promote mentoring programmes to female students to enhance the visibility of their women leaders, while facilitating their own insertion in the workforce.
A study has shown that female developers appreciate having a mentor, but unfortunately,
there are not enough women leaders in the industry to provide it. As a result, only 10% of girls mentored were conducted by women leaders in their field.
The Fondation L’Oreal and UNESCO have also partnered for two decades to give women in STEM the recognition they deserve. They aim to empower women scientists in their duties to achieve excellent results and to strengthen their equal participation towards solving the great challenges facing humanity.
Innovative hiring processes
Historically, the tech sector has been young, white and male-dominated. There is an incredible shortage of women in STEM jobs and the industry is well aware of that.
There are more than 140 cognitive biases that influence one's decision to hire someone. These can range from unconscious bias to confirmation bias (the ability to interpret new pieces of information with the vindication of previously existing beliefs), and even though it is possible to be aware of them, they will always be there.
Riham Satti, founder of MeVitae and clinical neuroscientist, has developed a software that allows blind hiring, meaning assessing a candidate's skills anonymously, without prior knowledge of background, gender or ethnicity. It has been in use at the company and they now employ more women than men - which is rare in the sector.
Apart from the speeding of the reviewing CV process, the software has only backfired once. This is why investors and policy makers, as the recent EU legal framework on AI proposes, are needed for change to become a reality and achieve equality for all. These advances could enhance women being recruited in tech in order for it to become more diverse and inclusive which avoids the loss of talent and bright ideas and in turn, is a boon to productivity.
Amazon Web Services (AWS) is promoting hiring processes specifically for minorities and women in particular in order to reduce the gender gap in the tech sector. Their initiatives involve apprenticeship programmes for military spouses regardless of their duty station and with no prior knowledge in the field. Moreover, they help those who have recently been out of work, as it could be the case for new mums, to transition back to full-time work.
AWS has recently partnered with the global non-profit Girls In Tech organisation with support and funding to develop a Digital Career Fair and virtual hackathon, where girls and women have to solve real-life problems with technology, which will surely enlight them on their importance in our society.
It’s time for the tech sector to apply it’s creativity, expertise and resources to create tools to combat its gender inequality problem.
We’re here to stay!
Written By: Blanca Zaragoza, Research Ambassador at Metta Space
Edited By: Paula Koller-Alonso, Head of R&D at Metta Space