In 2019 Emily Chang, Bloomberg technology journalist and bestselling author, said in an interview that “Silicon Valley is deciding what we read, how we communicate, what we buy. It is rapidly reshaping our culture… yet the vast majority of the decisions made in tech are made by men.” Tech is a global industry, deeply interconnected with Silicone Valley culture, funding and management approaches. So how do we make tech more equitable for women and girls so that they not only choose to go into tech, but also thrive when they’re there, in decision-making roles?
It’s a complex question, especially today. 2020 saw the use of tech explode. The gaming industry, for example, doubled its annual growth to 20% and the predictions are that today’s 2.7bn users will jump to 3.1 bn in 2023. That means more tech funding, innovation and jobs.
However, our young people’s prospects have been hit hard: most nations were forced to close schools. While three-quarters of countries offered remote learning, nearly two-thirds of all students were unable to continue their studies. Over 11 million girls are expected not to return to school. Concurrently, 47 million women globally fell into extreme poverty, bringing the total to nearly 440 million. Of course, this will open further the global gender income gap. What does it mean for girls and women studying science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects and wanting to enter the tech industry, which is in need of innovation, people and skills?
Only 22% of roles in AI are occupied by women and the lack of women in AI and robotics will perpetuate inherent biases against women (well elucidated by Caroline Criado Perez in her bestseller, Invisible Women). We urgently need more women in tech.
Access to the internet is also a barrier to progress. Globally, 48% of women and girls are online versus 58% of men. The United Nations (UN) have called for digital inclusion targets to help close the digital divide, including a target of broadband internet user penetration to reach 75% worldwide by 2025, costing no more than 2% of Gross National Income per capita. This would create opportunities not only for women and girls to learn and access tools, but also for new entrants into tech. While women make up 49.5% of the world’s population, they make most of the decisions about consumer purchases, family finances, education, health and personal care. As these become more technologically-enabled, women will make up a majority of the users.
At EY we understand we must work harder to raise the status of women technologists and promote female role models, if we’re to attract more women to tech.
In my role as the global lead for Women.Fast Forward, EY’s platform focused on advancing gender equality, I see many challenges. But I also see brilliant women with remarkable talent, who should be recognized. In 2018 we launched EY Women in Technology (WIT) to achieve sustained increases in women, and ultimately female leaders, in technology.
We have a three-pronged approach to create the societal change we need. First, we’re investing in STEM education programs that encourage women to enter these fields. Second, we connect future female leaders with role models and offer support. Third, we harness tech innovation that encourages collaboration and empowers women around the world to engage with the world of work. EY is also a member of the Global Innovation Coalition for Change, a UN Women initiative encompassing academic, not-for-profit and private sectors that collectively aims to improve women’s ability to access and participate in innovation.
Finally, we’ve created a mobile platform, EY STEM Tribe, in collaboration with Tribal Planet, a Silicon Valley based company that develops ecosystems to engage global citizens. The platform engages girls aged 13-18 from middle to low economic backgrounds in a gamified STEM experience and also engages parents and schools to break-down gender bias when encouraging children to explore STEM careers.
I believe getting more women into tech is possible, but this is a systemic issue that we must tackle intentionally and collaboratively.
 Author of Brotopia: Breaking Up the Boys’ Club of Silicon Valley, the bestselling book about the tech industry