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21 April 2021

Women in the Tech Sector

What do the first computer programmer, the person who laid foundations for today’s WiFi, and the creator of STP Internet Protocol have in common? If your answer is 'they all have a computer', you’re wrong. If your answer is “they were all born in the 20th century”, you’re also wrong. If your answer is 'they’re all women', either you’re super smart, historically literate, or you just opened a couple of browser tabs to google the correct answer.

The world’s first computer programmer was Ada Lovelace, a woman who was born approximately 130 years before the first computer was created. We use WiFi and GPS today thanks to Hedy Lamarr, an actress-inventor who was so cool that she came up with an idea of “frequency hopping”, which was originally going to be used to bypass enemy’s interception of messages in World War II. The Internet was “born” from the brain of Radia Perlman, who invented STP Protocol and was nicknamed, literally, “the mother of Internet”.

Women do good things to the tech industry not only when they make mind-blowing inventions. Good things also happen to tech industry when women simply make their presence. A diverse and inclusive IT workplace allow room for more perspectives, leading to better problem-solving processes and better products. Other than that, women in the workforce create better company reputation, innovation, and even revenue. This claim is backed up by works of research in Indonesia and the US, as cited by Mondo.com, Scientificamerican.com, and Telkomtelstra.co.id.

Some technical issues…

Many women have made tech industry a much better place, so expectedly, the industry should be a place that welcomes women, right? Err… not really. Relationship between women and tech industry has been rather odd. For example, women compose only 34.4% of workforce in the five biggest tech company (Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple, Amazon). In Europe, women occupy less than 7% tech positions in the continent. How can this be?

There’s a lot of things to point out, really, from how boys are thought to be better at STEM fields, subconscious bias that operates during a hiring process, to the classic problem of wage gap. Other issues such as problematic maternity leave policy and working culture make a lot of women leave the tech industry within a year. If these problems aren’t addressed, the presence of women in this sector will keep on dwindling, and a lot of talents would be wasted.

Fixing the issues

As mentioned earlier, there are a lot of benefits of hiring women in the tech industry, and many women have proven themselves to be capable of making great contribution in this field. So even from an employer’s perspective, there should be more energy, time, and focus to support women who are working or willing to work in the tech industry. The most necessary and doable thing that employers should do, then, is to challenge their own biases and question how their company culture positions women.

Another thing that employers can do is to simply hire more women. If women are leaving the tech industry because they feel isolated in a male-dominated environment, bringing more women to the team will make female workers feel less alone. If recruiters feel like women are less capable of doing tech stuff, leaders in the tech education sector could also provide tech-related training for women. Organizations such as Wise, Girls Who Code, and Girls in Tech have set excellent examples for this.

Is there a future for women in tech?

Despite the overwhelming odds, it seems that the number of women in the tech industry is slowly increasing. Over the past few decades, we’ve been finding women among the most prominent names in tech such as Susan Wojcicki, who is the CEO of YouTube and overseeing billions of active users per month. Grab, one of the frontrunners of ride-hailing app in Southeast Asia, was founded by Tan Hooi Ling. Twitter’s head of communications in Southeast Asia is an Indonesian woman named Priscila Carlita.

Women in technology have made significant contributions despite the gender-related obstacles that they face. As the future of the tech industry relies on women, it is then up to the leaders to give their support for women in the sector.

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