Chair, Women in Technology and Science (WITS)
Things have changed a lot over the years. Back in 1984 when I started my electronics engineering degree, I got an 8” floppy disk for all my storage needs for the four years – about enough for one minute of audio today.
Looking back over 30 years of pictures of WITS since 1990, the hairstyles and the clothes look so dated. What’s more surprising is that women working in computer science seem to have gone out of fashion as well.
In the census of 1993, nearly three in 10 systems analysts and computer programmers were women. By 2016, this had dropped to two in 10 for information and communications technology (ICT) jobs. Most of these jobs rely on the traditionally ‘feminine’ skills of teamwork and communication and are suited to flexible working – not to mention being highly sought after and relatively well paid.
How come we have gone backwards in 30 years, despite all the interventions, good will and intentions?
In another 30 years’ time, I would love to see equal numbers of women and men working in all STEM fields.
Conducting further research to solve the problem
Encouraging more girls to study computer science is only one part of the solution, the other is to hold on to the ones we already have. HEA research found that computing courses have the worst drop-out rate of all fields of study – for every 100 who start a course, only 55 complete it.
Research in Scotland found that women were 50% more likely than men to drop out of a STEM career. Trying to get back into a fast-moving STEM field after time-out is not easy. There’s very little hard data for Ireland, so WITS is planning to research the causes and the interventions that work, whether they’re cultural or structural.
In another 30 years’ time, I would love to see equal numbers of women and men working in all STEM fields. Even they can’t get by with a single 8” floppy disk.