Tara McGeehan

It is 180-years since Ada Lovelace’s work on the Babbage ‘Difference Engine’ which established her as one of the very first computer programmers, writes Tara McGeehan, President CGI UK & Australia.

Yet, despite these historic milestones, women continue to be widely underrepresented in today’s technology industry. A recent report found that only 19% of the technology workforce are women.[1]  What is the effect that this has on innovative technology? Could it mean that technical design is more male-focused – designed by men, for men?

“You are either with us, or you’re in our way.”

I’m sure many other women have used products or items that we instinctively know we could have helped design better. The vacuum cleaner that is just too heavy, the electrical cord seemingly placed without thought, or poorly positioned buttons and controls that are difficult to operate for those of us without the hands of a Premiership goalkeeper.  And as for car seatbelts…

We need better design for men and women

Of course, the answer is to empower more women to design with women AND men in mind; but it also highlights the desperate need for a more diverse and inclusive technology workforce that delivers innovative solutions for everyone, regardless of gender, ability, or biometric makeup.  We should put the consideration of functionality and physical differences at the very heart of the design process to make products and services that are more accessible and user-friendly for everyone, without exclusion or exception.

This inclusive, questioning mindset will undoubtedly lead to better designs and greater innovations that will benefit us all.  There is one problem standing in the way of this long-awaited progress. We know that the low levels of diversity, equality and inclusion in STEM remain a major barrier to increased accessibility to education and careers in tech, and not just for women.

So just who is the “average” person and where can we find them?

Traditionally, and wrongly, the technological world has appeared out of reach to the ‘average person’ if they don’t possess exceptional mathematical, scientific, or critical thinking abilities.  This flawed, pervasive stereotype has championed the value of the dominant ‘male left brain’ over the creative qualities of the more imaginative ‘female right brain’.

Research has now revealed that the brain doesn’t favour ‘one side over the other’, predominant brain functions focus on specific regions according to the task in hand and differ from person-to-person regardless of physical makeup or gender.  The debunking of this outdated and damaging myth presents a real opportunity to attract more diverse abilities and valuable life experience into the technological world – this must be unswervingly and enduringly irrespective of socioeconomic background, gender, race, or ethnicity.

Tech is still overwhelmingly the domain of men

Most tech companies are still currently owned by men, with recent statistics reporting that only 28% of start-ups have female founders.[2]  However this is changing, and there are an increasing number of tech companies founded by trail-blazing women offering cutting-edge products and services ranging from silent breast pumps, to digital banks, to graphic design platforms.

Attracting more women and girls into technology must be a priority for us all, we must make STEM subjects more attractive and exciting, and show the diverse, rewarding careers that are open to all.  If we do, then we will bring a wider, richer perspective to the development of innovative solutions, and pave the way for those that are to be the innovators of the future.

Thinking more about the end-user will improve design for all

Digital Technology systems are evolving to be more user centric. For example, agile software development is focused on the end-user and employs adaptive design iterations rather than rigid, outdated, and constraining investigation methodologies. Low code is an approach to software design which minimises manual coding – it is faster, more intuitive, and based on visual techniques. This graphical drag and drop method to developing programmes is easier-to-use, more creative, and less mathematical than traditional methods

These and similar technology standards will ensure the evolution towards more accessible design processes with an increasing emphasis on people, communication, and the ability to adapt to change.

Make work work for women, carers and everyone looking for greater balance

Hybrid working practices mean more women can achieve a better work/life balance, particularly as they often bear the brunt of parental or caring responsibilities. Business leaders are reportedly seeing a corresponding increase in productivity, quality of output, and higher levels of workforce satisfaction.

The need to do better by being unconditionally inclusive

I am proud and feel privileged to lead an organisation of over 6,000 talented individuals, I value every single one of them as they contribute to our collective success uniquely, and in their own way.  Within CGI we strongly believe that being ‘Unconditionally Inclusive’ ensures we offer opportunities for every person to be themselves without question and means we can mirror the markets we serve and deliver better solutions and services to our clients.

It is clear to me that there is still more work to be done, I passionately want to attract more talented women and girls into our industry.  We must all demonstrate to them the important role they have in ensuring that ‘all things are designed with everybody in mind’.  Times are changing and we are writing the future’s history together; as women we are better when we are fearless and of one voice, we all need to have the confidence to say, “Move out of our way.  You are either with us, or you’re in our way”.

[1] Women in Technology | 8 Facts About Women in The Tech Industry – Women in Technology

[2] Women in Technology | Top 10 Tech Companies Founded by Women – Women in Technology