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WISE calls out tech industry for slow approach to equality

At the 2019 WISE awards, chair of the campaign Trudy Norris-Grey called upon the audience to help find ways to speed up the move to equality in the tech sector

Despite its fast pace when it comes to innovation, the tech sector is not moving fast enough when it comes to gender balance, according to the chair of WISE, Trudy Norris-Grey.

At the WISE 2019 awards ceremony, Norris-Grey said while science and engineering have “sped past” WISE’s goal to have one million women in science and engineering by 2020, the tech sector still leaves a lot to be desired.

Norris-Grey then asked the audience to band together to find ways to accelerate the pace of change in the sector.

She said while technology is “pervasive” and fast paced, “we’re not getting the progress” needed in firms or the industry as a whole to ensure the gender balance reflects that of the society it serves.

Despite initiatives to encourage more young women into science and technology roles, there is still a lack of women in the technology sector.

The percentage of women in tech roles has not changed much in recent years, and although more girls are choosing science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects for GCSE and A-level, the pace of change is slow.

Each year, the WISE awards showcase male and female role models who are using science, engineering and technology to shape the future.

It also serves to make role models in the sector more accessible and visible to encourage others to pursue STEM careers.

This year’s award winners were:

  • Susan Harris, senior science technician, Benenden School, who won the WISE Technician Award, sponsored by the RAF.
  • Joanna Haslam, senior designer, Snap Finger Click, who won the WISE Computing Award, sponsored by Goldman Sachs.
  • Emma Veale, research associate, University of Kent, who won the WISE Emerging Technology Award, sponsored by Lloyds Banking Group.
  • Sarah Chapman, EMEA technical manager, 3M, who won the WISE Outreach and Engagement Award, sponsored by Airbus.
  • Zeb Farooq, bid manager, Wood Plc, who won the WISE Man Award, sponsored by AWE.
  • Diana Biggs, global head of innovation, HSBC, who won the WISE Woman in Industry Award, sponsored by Rolls-Royce.
  • Eniola Fujamade, associate process technical professional, KBR, who won the WISE One to Watch Award, sponsored by Intel.
  • Jaclyn Bell, senior teaching fellow in equality, diversity, outreach and public engagement, Imperial College, who won the WISE Rising Star Award, sponsored by BAM Nuttall.

Telling all of the event’s attendees they are making a difference in their sectors, WISE CEO Helen Wollaston said the next step is to make sure the stories of the winners and of other women in STEM are shared “beyond this room in London to communities all across the UK”.

She said: “What we want to do is show girls, their families, teachers, companies around the UK, what the art of the possible is. In 2020, we should not see situations where there is only one girl in a computer science class, or only one woman developer in a team, on a construction site, on an expert panel, or around the boardroom table.”

“We want to show girls, their families, teachers, companies around the UK, what the art of the possible is”
Helen Wollaston, WISE

Stereotyping not only plays a huge part in the technology sector, where negative perceptions of people and roles deters those in the minority from taking part, it also plays a role in our day-to-day lives.

Science presenter Fran Scott told the WISE awards audience that people are exposed to “outdated” gender stereotypes “from the moment we are born”.

She said: “What that does is gives us our lane, and we are strongly advised to stick to our lane.”

These social stereotypes “restrict” our futures from when we are young, whereby boys are encouraged to be “little monsters” and girls are encouraged to be “little princesses”, into our adult lives, leading women to be less likely to be in STEM, and men to be less likely to pursue careers such as primary teaching or nursing.

Calling the awards a “celebration of representation”, Scott addressed the question of how to get more women into STEM. “It’s not a quick fix. It’s a total breakdown of gender stereotypes, and that’s going to take time,” she said.

Read more about diversity in tech

  • A funding round has been announced as part of the Cyber Skills Immediate Impact Fund (CSIIF), with aims of encouraging more diverse talent into the UK’s cyber security sector.
  • The public wants government and tech companies to tackle diversity issues related to the application of artificial intelligence, a study has found.

Read more on Diversity in IT

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