In a recent video published by The Guardian, author of Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit, Jeanette Winterson asks: “Where are the women in the brave new world that’s being designed for us?”
It’s a pertinent question in International Women’s Month, especially when we consider that we live in a world where despite the leaps and bounds made by women over the last hundred years for equality, so much of the world around us is still designed by men, with men in mind. For example crash test dummies are designed based on the ‘average man’ – which doesn’t sound that bad until you consider that it potentially puts women’s lives at risk.
Despite the world’s first computer program being written by a woman – Lord Byron’s mathematician daughter Ada Lovelace, in 1840, today women only make up a measly 16% of the STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths), qualified workforce.
In particular, the field of computer science has the lowest number of published female authors (except for quantitative finance), and also has one of the slowest rates of change in its gender make-up over the years. Some estimates suggest it could take as long as 280 years for gender parity in the field. As per the graph, below, in the US the proportion of women enrolling in computer sciences at university has actually steadily decreased since 1985. This is bad news for a future apparently shaped by advancements in Artificial Intelligence (AI), Virtual / Extended Reality (XR) and an increasingly digital world.
There are efforts to address this, for example Atlassian has made a concerted effort to achieve parity in the workplace by hiring at least 50% women in its graduate intake. However, it’s accepted that novel interventions will be necessary to address STEM participation by women, and from a very early age.
Women must be involved in shaping the digital future: without their participation the gender data gap increases (there’s a reason women tend to wrap up in offices – the temperatures are set based on the metabolic rate of the average man), and there is plenty of evidence that teams of diverse thinkers are better at solving problems than non-diverse teams.
Plainly, more women in STEM careers will accelerate scientific progress and shape a more inclusive future. However, if things continue as they are the future will be male.