Last week, I taught a session in an artificial intelligence class as part of the Master in Business Analytics program and realized that less than 27% of students were women. This is truly low compared to other programs the school offers. That said, however, it should come as no surprise. According to a study published by the European Union, only 17% of people working in technological fields (specifically, ICT) are women. Worse still: according to the same study, those women earn 20% less than their male counterparts. Despite the efforts made in elementary schools, high schools, and universities, little progress has been made if we look at recent trends these past few years. There are still invisible barriers and glass ceilings which discourage women from studying STEM fields at university and hinder professional equality between men and women in this industry.
What is truly worrying is that we know that the technology sector is growing steadily. It is currently creating and will continue to create numerous jobs for people with technological profiles in areas such as AI, data analytics, robotics, etc. This is why we should expect more women to be interested in this field. The scant presence of women doesn’t just represent a lost opportunity for them but for society as a whole. Greater diversity at work would provide a global and more accurate view of the major challenges our society faces. To understand and effectively respond to the problems of the world in which we live, we need an egalitarian society in which men and women can be found in every industrial, scientific, and technological sector. If women are left out, not only will the gender gap and inequality continue to grow; it will also be harder for us to address and overcome issues related not just to equality but to economic and social problems as well.
Some might argue that, historically, technology-related jobs have been associated with machines and, consequently, to the dirtiest and hardest jobs, making them potentially less attractive for women. But that excuse stopped being germane years ago. Technology today is also associated with computers, intelligent systems, and data analytics, and all these areas need more women who, in equal terms with men, are creative and help find solutions to the biggest challenges of our times. Developing unbiased recommendation systems, more humane smart cities, robots that help take care of our seniors, and sustainable energy systems, as well as fully understanding biological data are some of the major challenges humanity faces and which we have to address and overcome together, both men and women.
But, how do we turn these trends around and foment women’s interest in technology-related programs? How do we change what we’re currently doing so that these fields are more attractive for women from an early age?
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Three key strategies stand out which may help increase women’s interest in these fields:
1. Get rid of ‘classic’ stereotypes emanating from patriarchal cultures. In this respect, we need help from literature, movies, theatre, and culture, in general, but also families, promoting alternative models and options that are attractive for women.
2. Foster girls’ education and interest in STEM through technology-based games. Schools and families also have a lot of work to do in this regard.
3. Lastly, provide greater visibility to women who can serve as role models and sources of inspiration for other women and girls. We also have our work cut out for us in this respect. It’s not just about reminding women that they have had tremendous difficulties working in technological areas throughout history but also about explaining and showing what women working in these areas are doing today.
In sum, it is extremely worrying that women are still not very present in technology-related programs and jobs. It’s a concern not just because the industry is booming, but, also, because if women don’t consider these professional outlets, society as a whole will lose out. The vision women provide is fundamental to devise and implement solutions for humanity’s future. Achieving this will depend on our families, schools, culture, and our knowledge of both past and recent history.