If you are wondering why the topic of women in tech would need yet another article, it is because you — my dear reader — are most likely male.  

Bias Galore

Societal expectations that are based on gendered roles start early. Clothes for toddlers come mainly in pink for a girl and astronaut for a boy. Books for girls might focus on long-haired princesses waiting in a tower to be rescued, while books for boys tend to have main characters like chocolate technicians flying off in elevators. Thousands of ‘little things’ are scaffolded into systemic barriers that diminish the likelihood of any random human being who happened to be born a woman from becoming an (electrical) engineer.

For years now educational policies have tried to increase the low numbers of girls choosing Science, Technology, Engineering, Math (STEM) subjects in high-school. Such girls-in-STEM interventions are trying to fight back at biases that have established themselves firmly in our culture. My high school math teacher plainly told the class that he would not be spending his time answering my questions as “girls do not understand.” I dropped math. Twenty years later I run statistical data analysis to establish effect research, but the road was not a straight one.

The gender equality gap is slowly getting smaller, but both in the US and the UK the share of female engineers is only around 13%. Should you — against the odds — find yourself working as a female engineer, you are most likely underpaid, undervalued and underutilized compared to your male colleagues. Merit be damned. Your work environment might range from unfemale to unsafe, and yet you will likely be told to “lean in” or to “think like a Queen” and be above your surroundings. Which is asking an already disadvantaged person to overcome real-world problems that they did not create nor can control by having a better attitude. It is not surprising that a lot of women leave the field of engineering.

Personal Quota

It is why we need things like quotas for hiring capable female engineers. We did not all have a supported start into STEM on equal terms, and we are not judged in engineering on merit alone. Yes, there are biological differences between men and women, but they do not translate into males having math heads or a female proclivity for baking. Neurologically there is no reason for the low number of women in tech. The biases that cause this situation are learned. Which should mean that we can unlearn them. The same is true for any other underrepresented group of human beings in engineering.

A very powerful part of forming your worldview is ‘normalising’. It means that you think that whatever you are exposed to is normal. This is why representation and role-models matter so much. So try giving yourself a women’s quota wherever you connect to your particular field of engineering. Make an effort to get maybe a third of your input from female engineers. (You get only half points for this article as I am a ‘woman in tech,’ but I am not an engineer.) Try to fill your social media account with more women. And when you find interesting female voices; amplify them. To start you off on your journey of normalising women in tech, I would like to introduce you to three of my favourite femmes:

  • Jeri Ellsworth: All-round inventor. Amazing programmer and electrical engineer. Ran the R&D team at Valve, and has recently been busy building Tilt Five. This is an AR board gaming system where players wear glasses with tiny projectors that make holograms appear on a reflective gaming surface. After four years, the system is currently in production and is about to explode onto the gaming market. www.jeriellsworth.com
  • Naomi Wu (Sexy Cyborg): A tech reviewer and DIY maker of all sorts in Shenzhen. Giving you a candid peek into the birthplace of most electronics. Worked on the Creality 3D conveyer belt printing mill and builder of the blinkini. Once made a company uphold their code licencing by simply walking into their offices. Called out tech facemasks for not being safe. Advocates and opinionates loudly so that those in the back can hear. The tag line, “It’s all about merit until merit has tits,” is hers. www.youtube.com/c/SexyCyborg
  • Flavia Ferreira (Young Padawan): In our house there is a group of women known as the ‘soldering ladies’ that roam the world of audio hardware doing fantastic assembly work and repairs. Flavia is one of them. If your circuits are built to make sound, then these are the hands you want to work on them. She also posts soldering tips, Let’s Talk Nerd interviews and makes music. The force is definitely strong in this one. imyoungpadawan

Please share with us which Women in Tech you would recommend to follow.

Female Factory

There are a lot of women involved in building electronics but not as the engineers. They are the workforce on the factory floor. In the assembly houses we work with in Shenzhen and the Netherlands, the hands on our boards are mostly female. About 70% of the people that are carrying boards from machine to machine, doing through-hole soldering, providing optical inspections and clamping test beds are women. They are mostly young women and likely migratory workers in China and mostly middle-aged women in the Netherlands. In a very practical sense women are making our electronics. 

women in tech
Photo by Austrian National Library on Unsplash

About the Author

Priscilla Haring-Kuipers writes about technology from a social science perspective. She is especially interested in technology supporting the good in humanity and a firm believer in effect research. She has an MSc in Media Psychology and makes This Is Not Rocket Science happen. 

WEEF 2022

WEEF 2022

The World Ethical Electronics Forum (WEEF 2022), which is slated for November 2022, will build on the momentum from last year's event, where Elektor engineers and other thought leaders discussed ethics and sustainable development goals. Over the next few months, Elektor will be publishing thought-provoking, ethics-related articles, interviews, and polls. Visit the WEEF 2022 website (www.elektormagazine.com/weef) for additional details.