Studies and reports by numerous authors conclude that stereotypes, subconscious prejudices and gender biases are key to causing a low female participation in the digital and technology sector. All of which are culturally and socially bound and we pass them on to children in our everyday lives without really being aware that they can influence individual choice and career decisions. These stereotyped beliefs about technology professions cause girls and young women to not even consider working in the sector.
Could you tell us what factors influence these gender biases and prejudices in the tech industry? Is there anything we can do to put a stop to them?
What's the root of the problem? The book ¿Por qué no hay más mujeres STEM? Se buscan ingenieras, físicas y tecnólogas by Milagros Sáinz (Why aren't there more STEM women? Female engineers, physicists and technologists wanted) summarises the gender-based stereotypes regarding STEM fields. Here, we’re going to look at some of the most common stereotypes and how you can spot and combat them:
Social expectations and beliefs about girls' and boys' talents. What are your talents? And what about your children's? Many believe that boys are better at maths, physics and technology, and girls are more socially and verbally skilled. This is something that we project on to children and this has an impact on how their aspirations and professional expectations develop. From an early age, children start developing tastes and motivations in line with the social expectations that we transfer to them.
Gender stereotyping is part of a multicomponent structure. What do you imagine male and female engineers to be like? We form stereotypes about the people that work in different fields. As part of the collective imagination, the prototype for someone working in the STEM world would be a very intelligent, geeky, introvert male, with very little social life and maybe even scruffy looking. Television programmes and series confirm these stereotypes. When we choose a profession, we are imagining ourselves in the future and how we would like to see ourselves in that situation. If the perception of our image matches the prototypical image of the person working in a certain field, we may consider choosing that profession. The multicomponent structure of gender stereotypes, the non-existent visibility of women's contributions to science and technology throughout history and the lack of female role models in STEM fields discourage girls and young women to try these professions.
Girls' and boys' motivations and interests. The perception of our being and our expectations of success are very much influenced by gender socialisation. According to some studies and publications, such as the news article “¿A qué edad concreta pierden las niñas el interés por la ciencia? (When do girls lose interest in science?)” published by Mujeres a seguir, girls start being interested in STEM professions at 11 years of age. In the next four years, they start losing interest, especially if we don't support their vocations and help them continue discovering science and technology without gender prejudices. Society strengthens gender behaviour and attitudes in the classroom, on television, in advertising and media, promoting stereotypes and preconceived ideas of who does certain jobs. That's why working towards keeping teenagers motivated and interested in STEM subjects is crucial.
What about you? What can you do to combat the factors that influence technology-related gender prejudices and biases?
Here are some practices to apply to your surroundings and help you act:
- Help girls express themselves and speak confidently. Generate a positive environment, encouraging girls to recognise their own successes and not undervalue them.
- Celebrate females who have had an impact on the history of science and technology. Combat the invisibility of women in STEM and defend the role of women in design and production in science and technology, as well as men's roles as caregivers and educators. Technology, electronics and science are for girls and women too!
- Identify female role models around you. Recognise the work and effort made by women in technology from your educational community, in your family, role models, teaching staff, etc.
- Celebrate when a girl decides to take a step and lead the way to breaking gender stereotypes. Inspire girls to achieve what they want, take risks and understand that making mistakes is part of the process.
- Use language that is easy to understand, inclusive and non-exclusive. Language is important; everyone should feel that we are talking to them directly and that their attention and contribution to the experience is important.
- Encourage exploration, experimentation and risk taking. Mistakes and failures are part of the learning process. Getting something wrong is not a problem, not trying something is!
If we want to reduce the gender gap in the digital sector, it's important to be aware of our gender biases and prejudices regarding science and technology and include the gender perspective when educating the boys and girls of future generations, whether at home or in the classroom.
We encourage you to apply these tips in your day-to-day life so that both girls and boys can see that STEM jobs are for everyone! We also have a #girlsgonna toolkit for you to download. The #girlsgonna initiative aims to help reduce the gender gap in the digital sector, where you can find more information, resources and materials to help you to do so.