"Sometimes I’d walk into the lab and the guys – although they were nice – just seemed to stop talking,” says Rosa Fox, 26, of her time at university studying music infomatics at the University of Sussex. She only gained confidence in her abilities when, having gone into a non-tech role after university, she started going to events like the Ladies Who Code conference. Now she’s a back-end developer on the gov.uk website and runs events herself, including Coding for Girls and the Music Makers workshop at this year’s Brighton Digital festival.
Her experience isn’t uncommon. Women make up just 14.4% of all employees in the UK’s Stem (science, technology, engineering and maths) workforce. Why?
“It’s well known that girls often outshine boys at school academically, but this seems to change when it comes to science and tech-related subjects,” says Ella Roche, board member at Develop HER, an organisation dedicated to supporting women in tech.
“A key reason is that girls often lack the confidence to pursue a subject that is dominated by boys. When you leave school, this lack of confidence doesn’t simply disappear – it is strengthened, when they join a society that reinforces certain stereotypes."
“But a team that is filled with diverse people can only be beneficial. A diverse workforce, not only in terms of gender but also different backgrounds and skills, brings fresh ideas. We truly believe women contribute a different perspective that can challenge the status quo.”
So there’s a huge amount going on to show girls and women of all ages that they’re welcome in tech. Develop HER runs breakfasts, networking events and panels, while Stemettes organises female-only panels and “codeathons” for school-age girls and students.
“That safe space is a lot less intimidating,” says Stemettes founder Anne-Marie Imafidon, who was herself one of only three women studying maths and computer science at Oxford University.
“We eat Haribos, we play Justin Bieber, and we have fun. I want girls to feel as comfortable as possible. It’s enjoyable and relaxed and we do it under the guidance of female coders. We’re in a nice environment, not a dark basement. It gives female coders the chance to experience what it is to build a mobile app or a website, to create something using some kind of Stem knowledge.”
This article first appeared in The Guardian. Read more here.