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Women coding
Science & Technology Series: Expert Comment

A long way to go

City’s Computer Science academics discuss gender equality in computing and information technology.
by John Stevenson (Senior Communications Officer)

Women code 

“Software is not always gender neutral”, says Dr Sara Jones, a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Computer Science.

Dr Jones, who shared this view at the Grow event during the 2015 Digital Shoreditch Festival, raised concerns about the scarcity of women in the software development industry. She also made the point that if a woman does secure a place in a software development team, she may well be less likely to come forward with her own ideas and opinions if it is male-dominated.

Research carried out by e-skills UK in 2013 revealed that less than one in six (16 percent) of the 1.1m people working as information technology (IT) specialists in the UK were women.

According to the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), women made up 24 percent of all computer science students in 2005. By 2010 that figure had declined to 19 percent. A 2012 report from Creative Skillset demonstrated that only 29 percent of the interactive media industry in the UK is female and the majority hold positions in art and design and communications rather than engineering or computer science.

Sara JonesDr Sara Jones, whose research interests are in the design of interactive systems, Software and Systems Engineering (SSE) and Information Analysis and Visualisation (IAV), says there is still ‘a long way to go’, in order to enable equal gender representation for women in all sectors of the IT industry: “While women remain under-represented in teams developing and testing new IT products, it is perhaps not surprising that not all software is gender-neutral. Aside from the obvious economic implications of developing products that don't work as well as they might for half the population, this perpetuates a vicious cycle in which women are further dissuaded from being part of the IT workforce, and valuable talents are lost. To break this cycle, we need both better approaches to the design of gender-neutral software, and societal initiatives in schools, colleges and workplaces that provide practical support for girls and women considering work in IT, as well as challenging some of the all-too-common stereotypes in this area.”

Addressing gender biases and stereotypes in technology is the approach favoured by Dr Simone Stumpf, a Senior Lecturer in Human Centric Systems in the Centre for Human-Computer Interaction Design.

Simone StumpfDr Stumpf adds that women are “notoriously under-represented in Computer Science at all levels, and especially in higher levels of academia. Role models of successful creators of technology are still sparse.” She also says: “We need to remove the barriers that are placed to a career in technology and that will mean addressing some fundamental stereotypes about women in technology which can only be achieved long-term. Technology has to be gender-neutral and not be biased towards one gender. I have been involved in trying to make software usable by all by investigating problems for women when using technology, through our work in GenderMag, an approach to identify gender issues in software. It is my hope that we will see a future where gender does not matter anymore.”

Tracey Booth, a research student in the Centre for Human-Computer Interaction Design also shares a note of hope. She believes that the ‘Maker Movement’ is playing a role in getting more women involved in programming. Added to this, she thinks that her own computing research work will play an influential role in getting younger women into the field:

Booth“One of the most positive effects of the current ‘Maker Movement’ is the engagement of more women and girls with traditionally male-dominated activities such as constructing and programming microcontroller-based physical prototypes. Female artists, designers, researchers and hobbyists use platforms such as Arduino to support their creativity and self-expression, and develop solutions to real-world problems. I hope, through my research with end-user developers, to contribute towards a better understanding of how development tools can support all who want to use them. Supporting females to develop innovative physical computing solutions has the potential to bring more females into engineering, which not only has implications for the design of future products and technologies, but also further reinforces the virtuous circle by challenging the stereotypical perception of engineering as a male activity or profession.”

For more information on GenderMag, please visit this weblink.

Definition
Software Engineering

Software Engineering may be defined as the systematic design and development of software products and the management of the software process. Software engineering has as its primary objective the production of programs that meet specifications, are demonstrably accurate, produced on time and within budget.

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