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Future tech cannot be ‘defined by a particular population’, says CA executive

As new technologies are developed, companies could take the opportunity to hire more diversely to ensure offerings cater to a wider demographic

Technology is becoming a huge part of daily life, and the general public may not even be aware of its use in some activities, such as shopping in stores, browsing websites or making phone calls.

But the people developing such technologies come from a small subsection of society, and much like previous technologies, such as crash-test dummies and the first release of Apple Health Kit, there is a danger of discriminating against a large part of the population.

CA’s chief marketing officer, Lauren Flaherty, says up-and-coming technologies such as wearables, artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics cannot be “defined by a particular population” if they are to be fit for purpose for their different markets.

Pointing out that software engineers and developers are “largely young white males, generally from more affluent types of background”, Flaherty says that if this pattern continues, we will only get more technology that is not suitable for half of the population.

There are already industry-wide concerns that without the input of a more diverse development team, AI will be developed to have the social stereotypes that many are fighting to end, as well as miss the needs of parts of the population not represented by its developers.

Most AI developed as assistants have been given female personas, which may further perpetuate gender stereotypes surrounding suitable roles for women.

But Flaherty thinks the development and design of AI is “where the opportunity is for gender” in the technology industry, and that this segment of the industry is a perfect gap in the market for fighting for parity in the tech sector.

“If you’ve got a bunch of young fellas designing fashion accessories for women, I don’t have high hopes for that company,” she says.

“If you’ve got a bunch of young fellas designing fashion accessories for women, I don’t have high hopes for that company”
Lauren Flaherty, CA

But not only is the technology that people are developing changing, the way it is developed is also shifting, with design becoming an even more important part of the development process.

This puts an emphasis on the need for creative skills as firms focus on creating a more “consumer-oriented engagement with technology” – and women are known to be better at these creative skills than men, says Flaherty.

“We think of Stem as science, technology, engineering and maths, but when you look at a lot of what inhibits people from actually enjoying an application experience, it is things like UX [user experience], which are going to be about design and creativity,” she says.

But not only does the UK’s computing curriculum fail to reflect this new-found need for creative skills, leaving many without the skills that employers need, but the industry is also struggling to break down long-standing stereotypes surrounding who is right for an IT job.

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Flaherty says this has left many firms with a “narrow view” for hiring, which prevents a mix of people joining the teams working on these new technologies.

Some companies have managed to adapt their hiring process to create more diverse teams, but they often leave out important steps towards creating an inclusive culture in the business which encourages diverse candidates to stay.

“Companies also have to create better nurturing programmes to move young women all the way through, because if you don’t see yourself in an organisation, it gets lonely,” she says.

CA has a number of programmes aimed at encouraging diversity in the tech industry, such as its Create Tomorrow programme and US-based initiative Tech Girl’s Rock, but many young girls are still put off a career in Stem.

As well as seeking to ensure tech professionals talk to young people about what a technology role involves to make it seem more appealing, CA helps teachers learn more about future tech roles and what they will entail, aiming to break down sector stereotypes.

As well as helping young girls to “understand what Stem means in their terms”, Flaherty says it is important to expose them to technology early in life, before the usual drop-off in interest that young women experience at the age of about 13.  

“The data is overwhelming that says if we catch a young woman too late in the state of her development, in terms of interest and encouragement, the drop-out rates are extraordinary,” she says.

Accessible role models

Making sure young women have visible and accessible role models is part of this, but when they are already in a technology role, Flaherty emphasises the importance of having men in the organisation support them to fully achieve parity.

“For women to be successful and progress in their careers, you have to have successful partnerships with men,” she says.

In many cases where organisations or members of the industry are not doing the right thing to promote diversity, calling this out as bad behaviour not only starts a dialogue about how things have to change, but also helps those who may be too scared to speak out, says Flaherty.

“Those that might be more timid, that might not want to come forward in those situations – that, to me, is where women as champions do have an important role to play,” she adds.

Flaherty says that when she joined the technology industry, many were scared to speak out against sexism, such as “booth babes”, but when given the opportunity, she did what she could to stop such attitudes.

But good behaviour should also be spoken about, says Flaherty, and as feminism has been spoken about more commonly, there has been a backlash.

“You have to celebrate the good people, men and women, because if you start to objectify men in that way, there will be a backlash,” she says.

“That behaviour can’t become threatening, so now is a good time to be thoughtful about how we talk about this.”

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