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Women and Coding: Bridging the Gender Gap

Women and Coding: Bridging the Gender Gap

We live in an era where the coding industry – at least as first impressions go - is still very much dominated by men. However, this has not always been the case. On the contrary; women were actually pioneers in the field of coding.

 

The history of women and coding dates to 1843, with the first coder being a woman. Ada Lovelace was a British mathematician who wrote what now can be regarded as the first computer programme in history. As the years rolled by, women became pioneers in writing software. During the Second World War, for instance, since most men were away fighting, women were given the opportunity to operate some of the first computational machines used for codebreaking at Bletchley Park in the UK.

Women remained at the forefront even after the war, as coding jobs spread from the military into the private sector during the following years.

Mary Allen Wilkes was told by her geography teacher “Mary Allen, when you grow up, you should be a computer programmer!”. Wilkes, likes many other Americans, barely had any idea what a computer was, let alone what a programmer did. When she graduated, however, she remembered what her geography teacher had told her, and what she had heard in college - that computers were going to be the future. Her parents drove her to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and there, she was given a job as a computer programmer. Although nowadays it might seem strange that someone without any experience would be engaged in such a job, one should keep in mind that at the time nobody really had experience writing code. Institutions that needed programmers simply used aptitude tests to evaluate the applicants’ logical thinking.

Mary Allen quickly became a programming expert. She worked on the IBM704; although this was no easy task, as getting the programme into the IB704 was complicated. The programme was written on a piece of paper and then given to a typist, who translated each command into holes on a punch card. The computer then executed the programme and the results were typed out on a printer.

In the 70s and 80s; things started to change. The programming field became mostly the dominion of male techies, as fewer women were being attracted to the coding business. But why did this happen?

From 1984 onward, the number of women in the coding industry fell drastically, and by 2010 it had been cut in half. One of the reasons for this decline was how and when kids started to learn programming. In the late 80s there was the tendency amongst parents in the West to encourage boys (mostly) to show interest in mathematics, engineering or computer sciences by giving them computers as presents. Who doesn’t remember the first commercially successful models like Commodore or Atari PCs? These made the perfect Christmas or birthday gifts! There was a craze for these computers, and some are still running to this day. The association of computers with boys may have been one of the aspects which conditioned girls to steer away from coding and IT jobs, though things eventually did change in this regard.

With the introduction of personal computers and the eventual invention of the Internet, the coding culture was reintroduced in the late 1990s. This marked a turning point, where we started to see a renewed and gradually increased interest in coding and IT studies by girls in Europe and the United States.

Nowadays, 20% of the jobs in the technology industry are held by women. Less than 18% are studying computer science. Why is there such a gender gap in the IT sector? A 2015 study revealed that more than half of the women working in tech-based industries left for a different sector. Some of the top reasons for leaving included feeling isolated or bullied, poor management and feedback, and lack of opportunities to advance in their career. Men in the industry disagree with this argument and are of the opinion that there are few women entering education on IT courses, hence there are not enough women for tech-based jobs. Both views can be seen as realistic and truthful.

How can a company attract more women to their tech jobs? Women working in the field of IT band together online to discuss opportunities and experience. Searching candidates on these fora would be fruitful. Another mode to attract women in tech-based companies is if these companies would start using gender-neutral language when posting an IT vacancy advert.

Recruiting the right candidate is crucial, but retaining a good employee is even more critical. IT jobs often rank high in job satisfaction and happiness; however in the case of women, job satisfaction rates lower, the most likely reason being that they face a gender gap. Therefore, companies should strive to maintain an equal and fair workplace.

During these last couple of years, we have seen a drive towards getting more young females to study coding and encourage their talents in this field. Schools are also encouraging young females to take up coding courses. With increased awareness about the need to reduce the gender gap, many organisations are adopting new training, managerial and employment policies to help ensure that we live in a world where gender variations in skillset are a thing of the past.

 

Authored by the Finerton.com News Team (Malta)
Images Sourced from Unsplash.com & Pixabay.com

Last modified on: August 31, 2020

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