Why Aren’t There More Women in Tech?

ByAfke Schaart

March 8, 2021

Afke Schaart

International Women’s Day falls yearly on March 8 and shines a global spotlight on issues that affect women, including economic independence.

Less known is February 11, the International Day of Women and Girls in Science – a positive and valuable initiative and very much needed: Women are still under-represented in the tech industry worldwide, occupying just 12% of jobs in cloud computing, 15% in engineering, and 26% in data and AI.

But in many nations around the world, girls are getting up to speed and quickly balancing the gender gap.

It’s actually slightly incongruous that women are underrepresented in the tech sector when we consider the history of computer science – few people know that women were the pioneers of computer programming. Cynics may say that this is mainly because men were not interested because – at the time – programming was considered to be secondary, less important work. But this doesn’t do justice to female pioneers like Ada Lovelace and Hedy Lamarr.

Actress and technology pioneer Hedy Lamarr

Ada Lovelace: The Glorious Godmother of Tech

Ada (1815-1852) is considered the first computer programmer ever and is seen by many as the godmother of tech. She was the first engineer to write an algorithm, which she did for the mechanical calculator invented by Charles Babbage. She saw that the computer wasn’t just a machine for manipulating numbers, predicting that computers would become an instrument for expanding human imagination.

While at the time she wasn’t taken all that seriously, she’s now perceived as a pioneer of the digital revolution.

More Famous Female Programmers

Grace Hopper was an American naval officer and computer expert. She invented the term “bug” to refer to computer errors and predicted that computers would become small enough to fit on a table.

The Chinese female programmer Zhang Qixia calculated the trajectories of China’s first satellite, the Dongfanghong 1 in 1970. Ida Rhodes, who moved from the Ukraine to the US in 1930 where she met Einstein, was a pioneer in the use of computers to support language translation.

Another inspiring woman role model is Hedy Lamarr (1914-2000), a famous actress known as the most beautiful woman in the world in her day. She spent her spare time inventing new technologies. At the height of her film career and in the middle of World War II, Hedy invented the basis of all modern wireless communications, signal hopping, which underpins Wi-Fi, GPS, and Bluetooth.

However, in 2021 there are still considerably more male than female programmers, with only 26% of computing jobs held by women. There are a number of reasons for this:

  • Influenced by teachers, the labour market, parents and peers, girls are less likely to choose a technical course. Studies show that girls who are encouraged by their parents are twice as likely to study Computer Science, dads can have a greater influence on their daughters than moms; yet are less likely than mothers to talk to their daughters about STEM topics.
  • Perceived workload. The extended commitment to a computer science project can also deter women, as a common understanding that seems to exist is that rapid advances in the tech industry often preclude a career break for pregnancy.
  • The image of the female programmer is often not appealing to young women.

Steady Turnaround

Yet, we notice that this is turning around. In China, for example, women already accounted for about 18% of programmers by 2020, an increase of up to 70% compared to 2018 according to the Chinese headhunting and recruitment website Liepin. Around the globe, 1 in 5 programmers are women and girls born after 2000 are more interested in a career as a computer scientist than ever before.

Companies such as Huawei are also investing to offer women more opportunities in this area. Huawei’s flagship ICT-training program Seeds for the Future has attracted more than 30,000 budding tech talent from over 500 top universities in 126 countries worldwide since 2008. In 2020, the average percentage of female participants was around 30%, exceeding 50% in many countries.

The Future is Bright

The future looks hopeful: Doors have opened to women and there’s an increasing emphasis on the social impact of technology, which broadens its appeal. Thanks to female programmers like Ada Lovelace and Hedy Lamarr, new role models are appearing that can inspire today’s young women, like Huawei’s ‘5G Lady’, Daisy Zhu.

Increasing numbers of senior management roles are held by woman, with at least one woman on the executive boards of most global tech companies. However, if we dig deeper, we are still in need of more women to fill leadership roles in technology and innovation. While roughly 46% of Human Resources directors worldwide are women, only 16% are CIOs.

Let’s get tough on breaking the glass ceiling in the tech industry. That is the least we owe to the female pioneers in tech, who despite a lot of resistance, fought hard to become the forerunners of the digital revolution.

Disclaimer: Any views and/or opinions expressed in this post by individual authors or contributors are their personal views and/or opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views and/or opinions of Huawei Technologies.

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Afke Schaart

Senior Vice President, Global Government Affairs, Huawei Afke is responsible for global engagement with international organizations in domains such as sustainability, digital inclusion, and business ethics.

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