Despite the pioneering efforts of women in tech during the formative years of computer science, the gender gap has come to be a serious issue in the coding and cyber security sectors today. Here we take a look at the history of women in coding, how gender inequality crept into the industry, and what can be done to redress the balance moving forward.

A Brief History of Women In Computing & Tech

Women have been integral to the tech and computing industries as far back as records of “human computers” go. In the 18th century, Nicole-Reine Etable de la Brière Lepaute worked as a part of the human computer team which calculated the return date of Halley’s Comet, with Ada Lovelace, an English mathematician, working with analytical engines in the 1840s. To this day, Lovelace is considered to be the very first computer programmer. 

The abundance of women in the field continued into the 20th century ahead of the two World Wars, with pioneers such as Beatrice Cave-Brown-Cave, Grete Hermann and Hedy Lemarr (to name but a few) blazing a trail and contributing invaluable knowledge to the field. 

In the decades that followed, women rather than men made up the majority of the workforce when it came to computer programming, although it’s important to note that this wasn’t down to an attitude of equality. Part of the reason for the profligacy of women in computing in the early days was less related to equality and primarily because women could be paid less than men, making them a more appealing prospect for employers. Furthermore, many men at the time also saw computing as dull work, with men tending to favour the construction of hardware over software calculations. 

Even though this trend began to decline after the 1960s as more men entered the field, women still made up almost 40% of computer science students at universities in the USA despite certain schools not accepting them onto their courses. Unfortunately, the decline continued as lazy stereotypes crept into the industry from wider society. Part of this perception came from the efforts to market computers as a platform for video games to boys, which in turn enhanced the stereotype that computer science was just for men.

At present, women are desperately underrepresented in the field of tech. Only 5% of leadership positions in the sector are held by women, and men are more than twice as likely to have tech offered as a career choice compared to women. In terms of the workforce, under 17% of workers in the UK tech industry are women, with experts saying one million women need to be hired into the industry to reach gender parity. 

What Can Be Done To Redress The Balance?

For the tech sector, getting more women into the industry is a matter of urgency. The male-dominated world of tech is leading to some disturbing work, with the most notable being several instances of AI with overtly sexist tendencies. Such an outcome isn’t inherently avoidable just by employing more female coders, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see the link. 

The right attitude in education from an early age can go a long way, as all good practice will start at school. Coding and computer programming groups which encourage women to follow their interests do incredible work to question the stereotypes set before women.

Looking at the industry itself and women who are already in the sector, the perception of women as front-end developers also needs to be challenged, as while placing women in these jobs is a good start, it is unhealthy to assume that there is only one type of job for women in the field.

Are There Any Computer Science Groups For Women Near Me?

There are plenty of groups dotted around the country, with some even being made possible thanks to the help of some of our staff! Listed below are a few of the most popular, but if you’ve heard of more, we’d love to add them to our list, so drop us an email at charlie@wearecodenation.com.

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