Taking advantage of a quiet Sunday morning, I settled down to read the latest edition of IT Now, the magazine for British Computer Society (BCS) members, to catch up on what’s going on in the digital world.
As I read through the articles, something didn’t quite compute. I didn’t put my finger on it until around page 48 when I realised that the author of the piece I was about to read had something in common with all but one of the authors of previous articles – he was male!
I hadn’t been aware of the gender of the authors before I read each piece. In fact, and apologies to the writers, I went straight into the substance of each story without reading the introductory preamble. But the further I got into the magazine, the more uneasy I felt. This unease was more intuitive than rational but, having been around digital technologies for nearly 30 years, I knew something was not quite right.
I was curious to find out if this was out of the ordinary, so I logged into the BCS members’ portal to have a look at previous editions of IT Now. Here’s how many substantive articles were written by women –
- Spring 2016 edition: 1 out of 24 – 4%
- Winter 2015 edition: 5 out of 24 – 21%
- Autumn 2015 edition: 4 out of 24 – 17%
- Summer 2015 edition: 2 out of 26 – 8%
Should I be surprised?
Perhaps not, after all the magazine is pretty representative of the IT industry, ie overwhelmingly male! The imagery is very male (except when there are stories about women in IT) and the editorial team is all male. The latter, in itself, is not a problem if there is good awareness of unconscious bias and a genuine commitment to diversity.
Why so male?
Maybe women BCS members are not submitting articles to the editorial team. If that is the case, it’s not good enough to accept it. Good editors will strive for balance and diversity, and proactively seek stories from women in the industry. Not in a tokenistic way, but to improve the quality of the magazine for both female and male readers, and to ensure that female BCS members and women in the industry generally identify and engage with it.
This wouldn’t bother me so much if I wasn’t aware that excluding the female voice and perspective continues to affect young women in the industry – many feeling as lonely and isolated as I did over a quarter of a century ago.
In an era of growing digital dominance, the industry is crying out for young people and women to fill critical roles to enable growth. Progress made through initiatives to persuade women that the IT sector is right for them risks being undone if what they encounter when they enter the industry continues to be testosterone heavy!
Come on, BCS – you really must do better!
I smile each time I come across these very valid comments.
My career in IT sort of started back in 1960 as a young girl. I raided the public library weekly. On one of my raids I borrowed a children’s reference book which sort of introduced me to the idea of computers. It started discussing primitive forms of counting, travelled through time to Charles Babbage and ended with the Lyons Electronic Office. Enough for me to tell EVERYONE that “I wanted to work with computers”. In the 1960 no one knew what I was talking about and careers guidance was virtually non exist ant for a young female who had inherited her families rubbish lungs and lived in a coal mining village on the NE coast.
I finally made in in 1970 when I started as a trainee for Rank Hovis McDonald in NW London in 1969. As a trainee I spent 18 months working in a variety of different offices to see what was involved in stocking up our shop shelves with McDougal flour, Bisto gravy and a wide variety of household foods. Then I was allowed to learn COBOL.
Once in the IT department it was a revelation, that office had about 40 people and 30 were female, hence my smile at the above comment!
In my career I NEVER worked in such a female office again. What went wrong?
I think the birth of the BBC computer and shoot-em-up games put a lot of my sex off. Somehow we need to let our girls know that computers are FUN!
I loved reading your story and totally agree about helping girls see the fun side of computing!