Women are an underappreciated group in the world of tech. They bring tremendous benefits to society, providing alternative perspectives when it comes to problem-solving and acting as role models for younger women looking for inspiration.
Those working in the industry already do wonders when it comes to increasing representation, so building a culture of inclusivity can only lead to more women taking on these roles. But what's often missing is acknowledging the real impact female technologists have had with their work.
In this article, we go beyond the quota and motivations for fair representation. We delve into what can happen when unconscious male bias goes unchallenged and how welcoming more women into tech roles can help uproot this problem at its source. We also take a look at how women technologists are actively making our world better and how proactive, inclusive policies can lead to the industry becoming a more inviting place for young women.
Keep reading to discover the latest gender gap stats in tech, what has been overlooked as a result of unconscious male bias, and examples of how women are changing the game in the tech domain.
Women in Tech 2023 | Current State of Play
There’s no doubt that we’ve made huge progress as a society over the last decade. But even with our advances in diversity and inclusivity, women still only make up a small slice of the tech workforce.
According to the latest 2023 Women in Tech survey, this is the current landscape for women in the sector:
Women hold approximately 26% of technology jobs
Between 2020 and 2021, representation of women in the sector actually decreased
76% of survey respondents said they have experienced discrimination or gender bias at work
90% of participants believe that tech needs a gender-equal workforce
61% stated that their company is actively working towards increasing gender diversity
79% of respondents say there’s a gender pay gap in the tech sector
47% said their company was hiring more women for tech roles
27% said they were adjusting their recruitment practices to be more inclusive of gender
Since women take up such a small part of the tech workforce, it’s understandable that there are situations where their needs are not taken into account. This is why it’s so important that we champion diverse workforces. With them, we diversify our ideas, viewpoints, and knowledge.
On the other hand, the consequences of unconscious male bias are quite telling.
Uncovering the consequences of unintentional male bias in innovation
Too many key developments and implementations have been influenced by a purely male perspective. As unintentional as it is, this lack of representation has had devastating consequences on both women working in the field and those who stand to benefit from technological innovation driven by a diverse set of perspectives.
As of the 2021 census, women make up 51% of the population across Wales and England. Forbes identified women as being the world’s most powerful consumers while also highlighting that there is a major gap between women and the leadership of the companies that manufacture, advertise, and sell to them.
Developing innovations that meet women’s needs is a seeming blindspot in companies where women are underrepresented. Let’s take a look at the consequences of unconscious male bias across several pillars of technology below.
How AI can mirror human gender biases
Artificial Intelligence (AI) like ChatGPT is taking the world by storm. As impressive as Open AI’s platform is, it goes beyond content creation. AI in general has infiltrated many different fields including healthcare, education, law, design, manufacturing, and much more.
It has been well established that AI is often subject to human bias; however, what is less discussed is the impact of our own ingrained gender biases in how the technology operates.
Whether it’s a gendered voice recognition system or an algorithm used in hiring processes, AI can unintentionally duplicate and amplify male-centric perspectives about public life. The effects of this type of prejudice can have worrying implications for society - from excluding women from certain activities to negatively influencing their health and future career prospects.
Why does this happen?
Many AI tools and software learn from the training data they are fed. Some of this data stems from the vast amount of texts found on the internet. Throughout history, there have been more male publishers and far more male subjects in these texts than women. Crucially, this means AI has access to a data set with a greater emphasis on male pronouns, influential figures, male-centric news, and the heroes (not heroines) of legend. With that in mind, it’s easy to see why AI may have a biased sense of society’s makeup - despite opposing population statistics.
Unintentional male bias in AI: a life-threatening example
Where there is a gender bias in the data used to train the AI, the consequences can be keenly felt and, in some cases, can even be fatal. In her book Invisible Women, Caroline Criado-Perez highlighted an example of the seriousness of male bias relating to medicine.
Criado-Perez explained that women are fifty percent more likely to be misdiagnosed if they have a heart attack. This problem arises from medics’ training, where most diagnostics are based on the male anatomy. Their training does not factor in female symptoms and how these differ from those found in men. The introduction of AI diagnostic tools trained on male data sets could further entrench this problem.
Algorithmic bias in the digital age
Do you ever wonder how the algorithms that power our digital world actually work, and what kind of bias might go into them? From Google Search and facial recognition software to traffic lights and train schedules, these powerful sets of rules affect much of our everyday life.
Changes to algorithmic processes can have huge implications for society, as we increasingly rely on technology to make decisions. But what happens when a male-centred bias is built into these automated systems?
Let’s take a look at an example.
How two tech giants fumbled…
Amazon and Apple Pay are two real-life examples of male bias in algorithms.
In Amazon’s case, the retail giant created a machine learning tool that solely identified male candidates for job positions before it was pulled back. Apple Card had a similar incident - its algorithm was being investigated for favouring men for higher credit limits than women.
In both examples, women’s livelihoods were impacted by an unintentional gender bias. The existence of these cases shows how important equal representation is for society and why we need diverse viewpoints in our decision-making processes.
Smartphone design could give men the upper hand
Smartphones are one of the most important tools we use every day. It turns out that many of these devices may have been designed with a male bias. From the size of the device to its features and usability, there are subtle ways in which men appear to be prioritised over women.
One of the most obvious examples of gender bias in smartphone design is the size of the device itself. Men tend to have larger hands than women and, as a result, smartphones are often too big for women to use comfortably.
While manufacturers do offer smaller models, they tend to come with fewer features or lower resolutions. This makes them less attractive options for users who want both convenience and performance. Even if smaller phones come with all the same features as their larger counterparts, they often come with much higher price tags—making them inaccessible for many women on tight budgets.
The Apple example of gender bias in smartphone design
In 2018, Apple came under fire when it released three iPhones that were more suited to male users than female. At the same time, it discontinued the last device with a female-friendly 4” display. Considering women are a huge part of the smartphone-buying market, this sort of oversight can lead many women to feel misunderstood and unsupported by big household names.
While smartphones are becoming more female-friendly, it’s interesting to see how often a solution is only found after a strong reaction from the female audience. It suggests that companies need to be more proactive, rather than reactive, in their innovation.
It’s for all the real-world examples and reasons above that we need more women in tech. By addressing gender representation in the tech workforce, we can reap the benefits of more female perspectives right from point of a solution’s conceptualisation - instead of addressing gender oversights after its rollout.
Women changing the game in tech
Don’t let the above examples cast a bleak outlook. Although it’s clear male bias is “a thing”, we’re making crucial steps forward in increasing gender diversity in tech. Let’s take a look at three women who have changed the face of the tech industry.
Charlene Hunter, CEO and founder of Coding Black Females, is a seasoned software developer with 10+ years in Java & C# development. Her skills vary from requirements capture, technical architecture, and testing to various other aspects of building successful software applications.
Her real passion lies in using her experience to get more black women into tech - increasing their visibility and showcasing the wealth of skills they possess to diversify the sector.
Hunter is making huge strides in the tech industry, breaking barriers and helping empower black women by ensuring they have access to role models. Her unparalleled contribution has been rewarded with multiple honors - an inspiration for all.
Dame Stephanie “Steve” Shirley
Dame Stephanie Shirley is a true computing icon. Starting in England during the 1960s, Shirley built a $3 billion tech empire. Of the 300 people her business employed, 297 were women.
Dedicated to the ideal of a business built by women for women, Shirley and her employees promoted flexible work methods in a time when working from home was only dreamt of. They also pioneered the idea of women returning to work after taking time off for family responsibilities - something almost unheard of at that time.
Unfortunately, the industry of that time wasn’t as forward-thinking as Shirley. Many people laughed at her ideas and she struggled to even get a foot in the door in the male-dominated sector. In response, Stephanie became Steve. By signing off her business development letters with her family nickname Steve, she received more opportunities and her company flourished. The dame has been known as Steve ever since.
Since retiring, Steve has become a passionate philanthropist and also spends her time promoting IT-related causes. She will be a keynote speaker at this year’s Reframe Women in Tech conference, which focuses on empowering women toward success.
Flavilla Fongang is a powerhouse of success - an award-winning serial entrepreneur, international keynote speaker, and neuroscience brand expert. Fongang founded the leading market agency 3 Colours Rule and Global Tech Advocates (GTA) - Black Women in Tech, the first (and largest) of its kind of the GTA groups. She was also voted Computer Weekly’s Most Influential Woman in UK Tech 2022.
Fongang believes that since technology is an everyday part of life for us all, a diverse group of people needs to be involved in its development.
“If we aren’t the people who are developing technology, then technology products are built with unconscious bias, and that’s very dangerous. We basically expand the disparity,” she said to Computer Weekly. “Also, from a business point of view, those companies are not tapping into opportunities in different types of audiences, different cultures, and so much more.”
Male bias shouldn’t be the default
From smartphone design and daily commutes to Google Search and online shopping, having more women involved in tech development can mean the difference between a diverse workforce with a diverse way of seeing and solving problems, and one that ignores a large percentage of society’s needs.
Although we’ve made many positive leaps forward, what would be satisfying to see is more tech companies thinking proactively rather than acting reactively when it comes to women’s needs and representation in society. With some more inclusive, forward-thinking, we could make a huge leap for society as a whole.
We can encourage this type of thinking by becoming part of the solution. One of the ways we can do this is by supporting events that raise awareness around gender diversity. The 2023 Reframe WIT conference is one example where over 50 speakers are getting together to discuss empowering success for Women in Tech.