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What’s holding you back? Debunking misconceptions around women in tech

Back behind view photo of programmer lady look big monitor check id-address work overtime check debugging system wear specs casual shirt sit table late night office indoors, coding, women in tech

By Magda Domagala – Experience Strategist @ UNIT9: global brand innovation / Tech Co of the Year 2020 & 2021

Growing up, I was completely wrapped-up in the Internet and gaming culture.

My teenage years were defined by evenings spent alone in my room, just me, my laptop and the infinite opportunities waiting to be explored behind the screen. I was a passionate tech user. Yet it never occurred to me that a career in tech could be for me. Tech roles seemed too complex and unattainable, and the industry too male-dominated.

After an education in an advertising-related field, I landed my first job at a consultancy agency during my last year of university. While I felt satisfied with the cultural field, I missed the excitement of tech. It wasn’t until last year, when researching sexism in the tech industry for an article, that I got the opportunity to speak to some female tech leaders. They painted a picture of an industry filled with curiosity, creativity and passion, telling me there were some challenges they experienced as women, but how they overcame them to find joy and fulfilment.

This completely changed my perspective and helped me unpack the misconceptions that held me back from working in tech. These conversations changed my own career path: I’m now two-months into a new role as an Experience Strategist at award-winning tech company, UNIT9, and any past apprehensions have been allayed. If you’re considering a job in tech, but something is holding you back, I’ll let you in on some of the myth-busting that helped me:

Misconception 1: I need to be highly knowledgeable about tech before starting a career in this industry.

The clue is in the heading  – you are starting a new career, and no one expects you to be an expert.

The tech industry, with all its intimidating jargon, is sometimes seen as impenetrable without insider knowledge. But I’ve found you can learn the language very quickly. Colleagues are extremely welcoming, curious and forward-thinking people who are genuinely excited about creating great work and helping you along the way.

Technology is constantly evolving, so a tech career comes with continuous learning. Unless you’re considering a role closely tied to something very niche, like a specific programming language, there are plenty of opportunities open for exploration – providing you are curious and willing to learn. A keen interest is just as important as past knowledge or experience and justifies your place as much as anyone else’s.

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She Can STEM

Misconception 2: The tech world is almost exclusively a ‘boy’s club’.

Whilst the tech industry does have a reputation for being male-dominated, it’s certainly not exclusively so.

With only 22 per cent able to name a famous female working in technology, it’s important to remember that history paints a different picture. The first person to publish an algorithm designed to be executed by a computer back in 1843 was a woman: leading programming engineer, Ada Lovelace. In 1952, Grace Hopper laid the foundations for modern programming languages with the first compiler that translated mathematical code into a machine-readable version. And Hollywood star, Hedy Lamarr, is perhaps more notably the inventor of the technology that forms the basis for today’s WiFi, GPS and Bluetooth.

That said, more work definitely needs to be done to close the gender gap. A recent report from PWC found women make up only 15 per cent of STEM roles in the UK. The cause can be traced right back to school, where girls are far less likely to study STEM subjects than boys – a trend that continues into higher education. Impactful interactive initiatives such as the Ad Council’s She Can Stem Minecraft activation are helping to drive change and encourage young girls to seek STEM careers. This will hopefully help us paint a different picture in the coming years.

Misconception 3: The bar will be set too high for me to keep up.  

Even though it’s hard to swallow, there seems to be a common feeling amongst women that we are simply not good enough for certain roles.

Internalised social constructs are to blame. Take neurosexism – the misconception that there are indisputable differences between male and female brains – which leads to the perception that women are inferior and unsuitable for certain roles, including those in the tech industry.

Imposter Syndrome is also prevalent, and it’s ironically regularly recognised amongst high achievers. The term, coined by psychologists, essentially describes a feeling of inadequacy and shame about ‘fluking’ your way to success – acting the part rather than earning it. This tends to take its grip at key moments within a career – especially when starting a new job. A recent study by KPMG shows 6 in 10 women have experienced this phenomenon during transitions to new roles, and it seems to be a gendered issue.

Reframing these psychological traps can be challenging, but we deserve to go after what we want. Next time you’re doubting your abilities, ask yourself if you actually have a reason to, or if it’s just your inner critic fuelled by one of these misconceptions. Women are more than capable of forging their own success in the tech industry. We just have some extra obstacles to overcome along the way.


Advice-for-getting-into-tech-featured

The common misconceptions of women in tech and how to overcome these

 

Advice for getting into tech

“Women lack the education for a career in tech.”

Girls receive the same level of education in STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) as boys, at least until the age of 16, so I don’t agree that there is a lack of education, but more a lack of interest - something, I feel, that comes as a result of the fact that in the past, young girls have not always been encouraged to pursue careers in STEM. As a result, we now have a generation of women with little/no interest in these type of careers, however, times are changing and we are starting to see that the next generation of women are beginning to receive that support. Hopefully, this will mean that we will start seeing more women enter tech careers over the next couple of years.

“You have to code to work in tech.”

Often people are under the impression that to work in tech, you have to be a developer or engineer or something quite technical like that, but in reality this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Nowadays, “working in tech” can mean anything! For example, my role at CoinCorner is head of marketing - I don’t code or do anything even a little bit “techy” - so while coding roles are certainly a big part of technology, they are only one avenue. From marketing to customer support to compliance, tech is much more than just coding!

“Techies are nerds that work in cubicles and never see the light of day.”

Do cubicles still exist? Certainly not at CoinCorner, that’s for sure! Our office has an open-plan layout with panoramic windows; our teams (including management) sit at work benches together and are able to speak to each other at any time. We’ve found this to be extremely successful in promoting an open and transparent culture, helping to break down the walls (literally) that can often prevent effective communication between team members.

“Girls don’t like/care about technology.”

Wait, what? Who doesn't like technology? Technology has given us amazing opportunities to connect and make our lives easier - smartphones, social media and cryptocurrency, to name a few! I feel it’s important to note that technology isn’t the far-removed concept that it perhaps was in the past. Technology is all around us (and has been for many years!) and is something that most people interact with in some way on a daily basis. The assumption that girls in particular don’t like/care about technology is simply inaccurate as most of today’s young women have grown up with technology as much as their male peers. It’s also the same for older women too - over the past few years there has been a huge uptake in older women using social media and technological devices.

In addition, there are now a lot of resources available for women with an interest in not only using technology but learning about the background of it too. For example, there are many STEM organisations specifically for girls/women - Code First: Girls, STEMettes - which are proving popular. This proves that girls are interest and do care about technology!

“Gender stereotypes”

There’s a stereotype that “boys are better at science and maths than girls” and it’s introduced to children at a young age. This can easily discourage girls from studying STEM subjects, affecting their confidence to even have a go at any of these types of subjects.

Education sets the tone for many people’s career choices and it’s important to look at how schools are shaping curriculum. With more encouragement at school, I might have pursued STEM related subjects, however, I wasn’t given the right support at the time and felt I should pursue more humanities-based subjects instead. Although this hasn’t affected my ability to get into a career that I love (marketing), it did limit my choices somewhat at an important stage in my young life.

Furthermore, there is actually very little difference in the average ability of boys and girls when it comes to STEM subjects - meaning that there’s no reason girls shouldn’t be encouraged to pursue courses in these areas. In order to attract more girls to study STEM subjects at university and pursue STEM careers, we should tackle these stereotypes earlier at primary and high school levels.

About the author

Molly Spiers is head of marketing at CoinCorner - one of the UK's leading cryptocurrency exchanges. Considered (almost) a veteran in the crypto industry, Molly joined CoinCorner back in 2015 (before crypto was “cool”) and has helped grow the company from start-up to success. Molly was recently named as one of the "Women To Watch: Top UK Women in Blockchain 2019".

In her spare time, Molly enjoys going to the gym, playing netball and spending time with her husband, Mike, and son, Charlie.


creative engineer, architect featured

"Engineers aren't creative" and other misconceptions

creative engineer, architect

Article provided by Alison Horton, principal engineer at built environment consultancy Curtins’ Birmingham office.

I think there are still a lot of misconceptions about the engineering industry today.

These are definitely tied to it being a male dominated industry. I think many people still see engineering as a dirty, noisy industry, and a ‘geeky’ one at that.

One problem in the UK is that the title of ‘engineer’ is not protected. In other countries – like Germany – only people who hold certain qualifications can call themselves an engineer. However here, anyone can call themselves an engineer. This means that many jobs that would be called ‘mechanic’ or ‘technician’ elsewhere, become classified as an engineer – further feeding confusion over what an engineer is and does. For example, someone who comes to repair your boiler may quite happily refer to themselves as an engineer, but the main differentiation is that he fixes the boiler, he hasn’t designed the system. Engineers are the designers.

Once you understand that engineers are designers, you can begin to see why creativity is such an essential element of what we do. Engineering is one hundred per cent a creative industry and we are designers in every sense of the word. People don’t realise that a lot of us spend our time in an office in front of a computer – and part of this is using the latest and most exciting technology available to make the buildings and infrastructure you see and use every day possible. If engineers weren’t creative, buildings that are both functional and beautiful would never come to life and we would never be able to solve the problems that inevitably arise when designing new infrastructure.

Some of the best all-round engineers I know have an aptitude for creativity, with an artistic eye and a love for architecture just as much as structure. Engineers explore ideas, create models, produce sketches and work iteratively, constantly adapting and working as a team. The industry is embracing the most cutting-edge technology as part of this, allowing creativity to thrive. Our designs can now be expressed through virtual and augmented reality, producing better – and these days more sustainable – buildings, for a brighter future.

For more information, please visit www.curtins.com

About the author

Alison Horton is a senior engineer at the Birmingham office of built environment consultancy, Curtins.

Horton is also a STEM ambassador and is passionate about encouraging more people - both male and female - into STEM related jobs.