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30th March 2015

Women at work

13th March 2015 | Posted in Opinion

Hilary Clinton spoke about gender inequality in the technology industry at a Silicon Valley event at the end of last month.

womenShe was prompted by some depressing data. 20% of developers in California are female and 11% make it to executive positions; 53% of technology firms have female representation at senior level compared with 84% of all US businesses and men working in technology averagely earn 61% more than women. Some data suggests it may be getting worse - just 17% of the US technology workforce was female in 2012 and this had fallen to 16% in 2014.

Where California leads, the technology world follows and I think this matters. It matters for work and society as an ethical and moral issue. It matters because the world is short of developers and any industry ignoring nearly 50% of its potential workforce is in trouble. And it matters because a certain amount of the future is in the code that’s being written right now. Culturally, subliminally, deeply and almost always accidentally, male code. We may just be embedding discrimination in a way that legislation never managed in the past.

There are things we can do at work and I should do more and take responsibility for encouraging others to do the same. I mean real things, not cynical public relations tricks and #Techtalent is something deserving attention here. There are things in education and the UK Government initiative is a small scratch on a very tough nut to crack. But sat at a Comedy Club night this week where some really clever scientists communicate through humour, I was struck by how many of the comedians were female. It makes me curious for what that means for the maleness of the society creating scientists and convinced that in a world where girls do better than boys at school, pointing out that girls play computer games too is missing the point. Re-defining science in the technology workplace without painting the walls pink and creating an environment where everyone can bring their best is what we can’t do without.

I have more questions than answers but there’s something of the Thatcher syndrome to avoid here. Our objective must surely be to create work and society which are balanced, not to encourage women to be successful by being more like men.

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