Yang Lyu, a back-end engineer at Australian technology services firm Kablamo, is one of the few women on her team in the male-dominated field of software development.
But that wasn’t always the case in the early years of coding. During World War II, a majority of women used some of the world’s first computer machines used to crack codes. Today, only 25-30% of software developers are women, according to some industry estimates.
The industry can do better when it comes to gender diversity. Lack of awareness of the IT profession among students and unconscious biases are just some of the challenges that must be overcome before the representation of women on software development teams can improve.
In a recent BrightTalk webinar, Computer Weekly brought together a group of female technology leaders and professionals at different stages of their software development careers to unpack some of these issues and what the industry can do to fill the gap. gender gap.
The discussion covered a range of topics, including the challenges of greater gender diversity, and how having more role models, support systems and building both skills and confidence are essential for women succeed in the tech industry.
The lack of templates is a major challenge, said Rachel Teng, junior front-end developer at Acronis, a cybersecurity and backup software vendor.
“There are many successful and respected [male] software developers and computer scientists. Seeing the lack of women makes me think, ‘Are there even real career paths [for women] will it last 20, 30 years?’ »
Archana Manjunatha, Executive Director and Head of Platform Transformation at DBS Bank’s Consumer Banking Group, agreed that the lack of female role models is a big problem that gets worse as you move up the corporate ladder. company.
“It gets more lonely at the top because there are even fewer women as you move up the corporate ladder. Having more role models means other women won’t feel so lonely and feel they can’t. To a certain extent, it’s hard to become what you can’t see. That’s how people choose their careers and paths – when they see someone, they then it’s easier for them to say, ‘I want to become like this person’,” Manjunatha said.
“Today, when we think of an SRE [site reliability engineering], architect or chief engineer, you often evoke a masculine image. We need to start replacing that with more female images, so that women entering the industry aren’t deterred at all.
On the other hand, progress has been made to accommodate more women. Kwong Yuk Wah, assistant professor at the School of Computing, National University of Singapore, pointed out that there are now more initiatives to highlight female role models and encourage women to enter the IT industry. .
For example, the Singapore Computer Society in 2020 and 2021 celebrated Singapore-based women who have inspired their communities and made significant contributions to the tech industry, with the Singapore100 Women in Tech list.
Another challenge is an unconscious bias that sets in early, where even elementary school children see math and science-related fields as more male-friendly, Manjunatha said.
Kablamo’s Yang, who also participated in the webinar, said education through family and schools can help change this prejudice. She grew up thinking the tech industry was more male-friendly, but over time, family, school, and teachers helped change that perception.
Yang also noted that the path to a tech career can sometimes take the scenic route, with the availability of multiple paths. She had earned a degree in architectural design, but only discovered her knack for coding when she landed a job as a telecommunications engineer, which ultimately steered her toward a degree in computer science.
Today, as a back-end engineer at Australian technology services company Kablamo, she describes her journey as “rewarding and amazing”.
Have support systems
Another challenge for women is to thrive in their careers through the different stages of life, where they must juggle raising children and working, or even taking time for family before re-entering the workforce. Kwong suggests that having support systems in place can help women through difficult times.
Manjunatha added, “Feel free to lean down and ask for help. Because you’d be surprised how many people want to make it easy for you, so you probably don’t have to give up completely, but even if you do, you can make a comeback at some point.
Teng shared that her family has been very supportive, including her husband who works in cybersecurity. He helped her with advice on how she can improve in her role and how to navigate the tech industry.
The key elements for success
The discussion then turned to the key elements essential to the success of women in the tech industry.
Regardless of gender, it comes down to skill and confidence, Archana said. “Developing your skills is extremely important, and with that skill comes confidence. Keep learning, build your skills, have confidence in yourself and don’t worry about too many setbacks,” she added.
“When you’re a subject matter expert, the agenda is almost invisible at the table because people listen to you for your expert opinions, for your knowledge in the field. And you want respect for that.
While more could be done to encourage gender diversity, Manjunatha called for women to upskill often.
“Keep you posted,” Manjunatha added. “Technology is constantly evolving. What got you here won’t get you there tomorrow, so always keep up to date. The growth mindset and this ability to want to keep learning is very, very important if you are in this space.
While upskilling, e-learning or retraining can be done without going through a certification course, Kwong noted that certification is a way to benchmark one’s skills and competencies.
For example, Singapore is currently working to develop skills in ethics and governance in artificial intelligence (AI) and having such a certification program can help encourage individuals to develop new skills.
Besides competence, Kwong said comfort is another important factor, adding, “We shouldn’t doubt ourselves, but feel happy and comfortable, so you can express yourself in settings like meetings where the majority are men.”
Both Kwong and Manjunatha noted that achieving more balanced gender representation on technical teams and the industry as a whole would deliver better code, products, and technology.
“We live in a world where there’s a somewhat 50-50 parity in gender representation,” Manjunatha said. “For example, at DBS Bank, our customer base is almost 50-50. Therefore, products cannot be designed and developed by an unbalanced technology team…regardless of the field of technology, diversity of thought is very important. Otherwise, you end up serving only one part of society.
Greater advocacy would help, Archana pointed out. “We live in much better times, but there is still a long way to go. If only 20% of us try to solve the problem, the problem will not be solved or it will take longer. The remaining 80% must be part of the solution. Otherwise, it’s just women talking about the need for equality and parity.
Although challenges exist, many opportunities exist for women in the tech industry. Yang said, “There were many times when I felt unsure if I was smart enough for this. But one thing my art teacher said about hours mattering more than talent inspires me. Instead of asking if you’re smart enough, just put in the hours, be willing to learn, really try and give it a try.