Where are the women in IT?

Did you know that a woman wrote the world’s first computer programme? Back in 1848, the British aristocrat Ada Lovelace recognized the potential of her friend Charles Babbage’s analytical engine. Babbage had designed the machine to solve mathematical functions only.

The mathematician Lovelace, on the other hand, understood that the machine could process much more than just numbers. She understood the difference between a pure calculating machine and a programmable computer. In notes on the analytical engine, she provided instructions for calculating Bernoulli numbers – the world’s first algorithm.

At a time when women were still only playing the roles of mother and housewife, Ada Lovelace laid the foundation stone for the first programmable computer, which was built by Konrad Zuse less than a century later. In addition to her research, Lovelace raised three children.

No IT without Ada - women have played an important role in the tech sector right from the start. Source: Wikipedia

No IT without Ada – women have played an important role in the tech sector right from the start. Source: Wikipedia

Unfortunately, despite Ada Lovelace and other successful women in the tech sector, IT is often regarded as a purely male domain. In Germany, only one in four IT positions is filled by a woman. Why is that?

Why are there so few women in IT?

In the online magazine entwickler.de, women in the tech industry explain what they see as the reasons for the low proportion of women in IT and how these could be overcome in the future.

Cultural conflicts hamper gender equality

Isabel Muñoz Vilacides, Director of Productivity and Quality Engineering at CloudBees, describes cultural conflicts as the main reason for the low proportion of women in IT. She sees two conflicts in particular: firstly, getting women into the industry and secondly, keeping them there. For the first problem, the cause lies in gender roles that have been taught as core values from an early age. The prejudices that result from this are solidified in public perception. Muñoz Vilacides sees the second conflict in the fact that women often work in strongly male-dominated teams and their sense of belonging potentially suffers as a result.

“In the twelve years that I’ve worked in the tech industry, I’ve almost always been the only woman in the room. You’re different, you feel different and you don’t feel part of the group.”

However, according to Muñoz Vilacides, this is not the case everywhere:

“Fortunately, there are also companies that proactively promote female talent.”

Such support is in fact not only morally sensible, but also economically worthwhile. Studies prove that companies with higher gender diversity are more innovative!

Women are still a minority in IT departments

For Aine Mulloy, co-founder of GirlCrew, it is particularly educational factors that contribute to the fact that there are so few women in IT occupations. Even parental education should provide tech jobs as a reasonable option.

“Secondly, schools must be changed to encourage girls to take subjects traditionally dominated by men. Especially considering that this gender imbalance is often the result of inadequate education and resources over generations,” Mulloy said.

Figures from the Federal Employment Agency show how important it is to provide targeted support for young female employees in the technology sector. According to the study, there has been an upward trend since the beginning of the 1990s in the number of women studying computer science academically. However, only 25 percent of computer science students are still female. In the case of vocational training in the MINT sector, the inequality is even more pronounced: only one in ten training places is occupied by women. In addition to school education, Mulloy calls for a system of support for girls and women in the MINT sector that will be continued into universities and beyond, for example through mentoring programmes. In order to get girls interested in technical professions already during their school time, there are offers like the Girls’ day, in which blackbee takes part every year. We will be there again this year!

Women in IT must lead by example

The blackbee founding team consisting of Dr. Hanna Köpcke, Sabine Maßmann and Carina Röllig was not treated differently in any phase of the company’s development because it was a purely female team. It is therefore important for our entrepreneurs to show other women that their career path in the IT industry is by no means blocked. One thing is clear: more role models mean more impact on society as a whole. The mentoring called for by Aine Mulloy is therefore also a pillar for our three founders in supporting women who are interested in the tech industry. Since the beginning of 2019, our founder and managing director Carina Röllig has been involved in the WOMEN’S Business Initiative of the Federal Ministry of Economics and Energy (BMWi). Carina meets women from different industries and informs interested parties about her experiences in setting up a company.

Carina: “In order to be successful, you must have self-confidence, a clear vision and be courageous about the future”.

Our founder and CIO Sabine Maßmann has been a member of the Alumni Association of the German Business Foundation since 2005. During a foundation project Sabine supported a young team led by two women in founding an IT company. In addition to these mentoring offers, our founders also serve as role models in other areas. In 2017, for example, the third blackbee founder and CTO Dr. Hanna Köpcke was honoured with the Digital Female Leader Award, which aims to make influential women from the digital economy visible.

Hanna: “As a woman, you often have to justify why you have a technical profession and then you have to work twice as hard to be respected by (male) colleagues. My tip for young women who aspire to a technical profession: Don’t be intimidated! Be brave and stay curious!”

Women and technology? They quite simply belong together.

Don’t want to miss any news about blackbee anymore? Our monthly newsletter will keep you up to date.