Have we finally reached a turning point?

August 28, 2020

This week, when the IT University of Copenhagen starts the semester for the students, there will be more women than ever in the IT educations such as Software Development and Data Science. Universities around the country are also experiencing increasing interest from female applicants for the technical educations.

At the IT University of Copenhagen, Software Development has seen an 83% increase in female applicants, while Computer Science at Aarhus University has been met with a 65% increase. This development is positive – but it has required a targeted effort.

And why is that?

Why is it so difficult to attract women?

In spite of this year’s record intake and the increasing interest among applicants, these educations are still mainly male-dominated.

There are several explanations to this skewed gender distribution. Many of them are related to cultural and social factors that contribute to maintaining a stereotypical view of this field. You could also question the communication regarding IT, the content of the educations as well as the jobs to which the educations provide access. This communication is still too one-sided and insufficient. And finally, you could consider whether the gender distribution is ultimately associated with the biological difference that exists between men and women – and the difference in interests that this causes?

In spite of the fact that women have played an important part in computer history, there is a widespread view that men have more flair for technology than women, which is reflected in the early school jargon of ”boy subjects” and ”girl subjects”.

In social media – and very much in Hollywood films as well – IT is portrayed as something that is very technologically advanced and which is handled by men. The reach of these platforms can quickly result in this becoming a reality that is more or less accepted when women are faced with choosing a career.

The problem includes a lack of female characters as well as the lack of a broader and more realistic representation of what working with IT also entails.

As part of their targeted effort to attract more women, the IT University of Copenhagen and Aarhus University have started organising a number of IT camps and coding cafés only for girls in upper secondary school in order to introduce them to programming.

But is this the needed approach? It is definitely a step in the right direction to reduce the linguistic and technical barriers, but conversely, it actually still maintains the IT educations as being distinctly technical.

Maybe it would be a good idea to place more emphasis on the communicative qualities and qualifications which are just as relevant to the educations, among other things, if you want to appeal to women. Generally, there are more women in educations and industries that are communicative, creative and humanistic. For instance, if we look at Digital Design and Interactive Media at the IT University of Copenhagen, women constitute 52% of the intake.

What else can you do?

There are already many great initiatives to encourage interest among women. Further possibilities could be:

Make the communication more nuanced – emphasise the communicative and creative aspects

IT is not just programming and networks, it is just as much about communication, and about understanding user behaviour as well as seeing opportunities in and communicating business perspectives.

A need for female ambassadors

And here, we are not just talking about female models on the advertising banner. We are talking about ”real” women, who can serve as role models and inspiration with their work and qualifications.

Here at CSA CPH, we have previously worked on a series of articles called ”Women in cyber”. This series described a number of women’s alternative and sometimes unpredictable paths to working in IT security, as even fewer women choose that path. The women needed for inspiration are women who can describe their thoughts and experiences in their own words regarding the possibilities they see in an IT education and therefore act as ambassadors in upper secondary schools and municipal schools.

Network events only for women

The idea of IT camps just for women is good. It is important to create a foundation for a (female) community where open professional and social interaction can give women a stronger connection to this field.

The goal – should there be equal gender distribution?

Lene Rehder, who is Head of Student Affairs & Programmes at the IT University of Copenhagen, believes that in spite of the positive development, there is still a way to go to equal distribution, which has been the goal at the IT University of Copenhagen since 2015 – but is that really the right criterion for success? Surely, equal gender distribution is not a goal in itself.

We would prefer a criterion for success that entails that women (as well as men) are familiar with the opportunities and nuances associated with the technical educations, enabling them to make their choices on an informed basis, and a basis free from stereotypical views.

The question is whether you actually have to accept that some jobs generally speak more to men than women, and vice versa? Having said that, the IT industry needs the diversity provided by a mixed gender distribution regarding challenges, products, problem solving and issues, and precisely therefore, we should continue our efforts and provide more nuance in the educations with the properties that appeal more to women (such as a good income, job security, flexibility) prior to and during their choice of career.

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