Ada Lovelace Day: there is still work to do

Everyone within the IT and technology space knows that there is a severe gender imbalance within the industry. Ada Lovelace Day serves as a reminder of this, and along with events like the Women in IT Awards, it’s aim is to raise the profile of women in STEM.

Augusta Ada King-Noel, Countess of Lovelace was an English mathematician and writer, chiefly known for her work on Charles Babbage’s proposed mechanical general-purpose computer, the Analytical Engine – which served as a precursor to the modern computer.

The Day was only founded in 2009 by Suw Charman-Anderson, highlighting the relatively new nature of raising this issue. It is now held every year on the second Tuesday of October, celebrating the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM).

>See also: Ada Lovelace Day: women and the STEM career path

It aims to increase the profile of women in STEM and, in doing so, create new role models who will encourage more girls into STEM careers and support women already working in STEM.

But, is this message promoted by Ada Lovelace Day getting through to the children it is meant to inspire? In an exclusive interview with Information, Nupur Mallick, HR Director UK&I at Tata Consultancy Services, discusses what more can be done to bridge the gender gap within the IT and tech space, while emphasising the importance of encouraging girls from a young age.

Today is Ada Lovelace Day. How important is it to recognise the day in order to inspire a next generation of female technology workers?

It’s extremely important to recognise it, and I just hope that they talk about it Ada Lovelace tomorrow in school. But I’m not sure whether they’re going to do that tomorrow or not, which is endemic of the problem. I think that schools have a lot more to do in this area. They have to provide that kind of focus when they know the future is all about digital and cutting the talent shortage in the UK.

It is important to have these discussions and focus on computing and mathematics. I just hope that the schools are talking to the children about this and inspiring them to become like her, and telling them about all she achieved in life.

What are the issues women are facing in entering the technology industry?

When you think about it in general, I think the industry heavily weighs towards men, so it works against women. The corporate culture is there to influence women, and women don’t feel that they fit in, or they have the support of their co-workers.

>See also: Sending a consistent message is essential to keep girls in STEM

There’s probably a lack of role models for them in their organisations. There are a lot of issues that women are facing in entering the industry. You don’t have enough women studying computer sciences, and the industry exacerbates this problem and it needs to do something about that.

How can companies support progression for women in their roles within their organisation?

I think the most important thing is for the industry to admit that there is a problem, and agree to tackle it head on. If you look at products or services that IT is delivering, they are designing these for everyone.

Half of the target market is female, so it’s common sense that the product should be designed by everyone. You should have equal representation when the products are getting designed and the services are getting delivered.

It’s important for the industry to highlight the problem, agree to take it on and implement policies, which create a culture that is open to women and their advancement. It will be important to provide flexible working after maternity leave, giving opportunities to take a sabbatical and just to have more women in the leadership team to influence decisions.

It’s really important to have role models, it’s important to have them in these leaderships positions so you can create more female-friendly policies. Businesses looking to instigate this change should ensure they have a pipeline outside, as well as inside the organisation.

What is Tata Consultancy Services doing to address this problem of gender imbalance?

We have close to 400,000 employees in the organisation, and 34% of our workforce our women, which is much more than what you see in the industry. In the UK alone, 27% of our workforce is female. It’s probably 15%-17% in the rest of the industry. So, we are doing something right, although the journey is not over.

>See also: Women in IT Awards 2018: nominations open!

We need to see how we can increase the number even further. But there is a lot of work going on in ensuring that we provide equal career opportunities. We have a special programme that we have designed for mid-level women managers – that has been working very well and producing positive results.

We also do a lot of work with the community – we have an IT futures programme, which aims to inspire girls to opt for STEM, and see how we can influence the community; how do you bring these female students into the workplace, how do you make sure you expose them to some of our leaders internally and give them a proper role model with proper mentoring.

Crucially, make them aware that they are equally accepted in the workplace, while equally trying to break this stereotype [of what a software engineer is perceived to be for example] both outside in the community, and in our organisation.

How important is it to encourage girls to study STEM skills at school?

I think it has to start from school. We need to change the perception of science and maths. They are seen as very masculine fields, but providing girls with an option and female role models to talk about women who have been successful in the industry can help address this. So, we need to change the perception of science and maths in the school.

>See also: Insider: Women in the technology industry

We also need to give students the opportunity of hands on experience with different types of technology, and let them know what they can achieve by doing that – what they can aspire to be, and it’s perfectly fine for them to work with in this industry.

Why is it so important to bridge this gap, so that it is 50/50?

It’s proved that businesses succeed with amazing diversity. It’s very important that you have diversity to work with. Ultimately, 50% of the talent is female and coming back to my first point, when you are designing a product or services for everyone then it is just common sense that you have a diverse team designing the product.

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Nick Ismail

Nick Ismail is a former editor for Information Age (from 2018 to 2022) before moving on to become Global Head of Brand Journalism at HCLTech. He has a particular interest in smart technologies, AI and...

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Women In IT