The tech sector is routinely criticised for its lack of diversity, particularly in comparison to other areas of the economy. According to a 2018 report from Inclusive Boards, only 13% of board positions in UK tech firms were held by women, compared to 30% on boards of FTSE 100 companies. Media attention surrounding male tech entrepreneurs – from Bill Gates and Steve Jobs to Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk – has only served to underline the point. Young women are left asking themselves, is there space for me in that world?
Girls are missing out on so many possibilities – everything in our lives involves computers and if you understand the science behind them you can go from just using a computer to making it do what you want it to do.
However, the now endemic male dominance within the tech sector is a surprisingly recent demographic shift. In fact, in the 1970s and early 1980s, the number of women undertaking degrees in computer science in the US grew to 37% - almost double the number applying in 2015.
The University of London, in partnership with member institution Goldsmiths, has launched a new online Computer Science programme and we spoke to one student about why being in the minority hasn’t put her off pursuing her tech ambitions.
Amanda Maria Bizzinotto Ferreira is studying the BSc in Computer Science (Web and Mobile Development), while also running her own digital marketing and web development agency. Having initially begun a degree in mechanical engineering, being outnumbered by male students isn’t new for her.
“My high school class was about half boys and half girls, but only two girls chose to study a degree in a science related field. I think it’s a shame. Personally I’ve always loved science, technology and maths but I think a lot of women are put off computer science by the maths involved. They’re missing out on so many possibilities that come from tech – everything in our lives involves computers and if you understand the science behind them you can go from just using a computer to making it do what you want it to do.”
Studying online really helps to remove any anxiety about being outnumbered by men – you can talk to anyone on the slack channel without feeling intimidated.
Increasing diversity, not only in terms of the gender split but also recruiting more people from ethnic minorities, is much more than a tick box exercise. In fact, it is estimated that having a more diverse workforce could increase the tech sector’s value by £2.6 billion in the UK and $400 billion in the US.
While reports suggest some women are put off by the lack of female role models in the industry and an unease about potentially ‘laddish’ cultures in tech companies, Amanda hasn’t experienced those issues.
“In my engineering degree I would walk into the classroom and see 50 guys and only two girls. It can feel intimidating and off-putting but actually I never had any problems and I don’t think my male classmates treated me any differently. That’s not to say it isn’t a problem for some students.
“With the University of London programme I’m studying online and that really helps to remove any anxiety about being outnumbered – you can talk to anyone on the slack channel without feeling intimidated."
I would say to any other girls out there who are considering a tech career – go for it! It’s so much fun and you will really enjoy yourself. You might feel nervous at first but if it’s the right career for you then it’s worth pushing yourself.
Find out how a BSc in Computer Science from the University of London could be the first step in your career.