For those terrified that the younger generation is wasting away its youth with video games, a Trendwatching study in 2013 tartly observed that women over 55 were spending more time playing online than men aged 15-24. At the same time, the underlying games being played shared one characteristic –they were overwhelmingly developed by men.

Women in IT are vastly outnumbered by men – amounting to just 26 per cent of computing jobs. Remarkably, women in technology used to be more prevalent – as many as 35 per cent or more of IT graduates in the early stages of the tech revolution during the 1980s were women.

Yet IT products are being consumed equally by women – sometimes disproportionately so. In fact: 82 per cent of Pinterest users are female. Both Twitter and Facebook have a female majority user base. However, the legacy of marketing from the 1980s remains: the computers are toys-for-boys narrative at the epicentre of personal computer advertising helped skew an entire industry.

Technology has become a male bastion from the top down – barely five per cent of tech industry leadership positions are held by women. Beneath the surface, it is remarkable how consciously or subconsciously a ‘bro’ culture has emerged. Men are dominant in programming (so called ‘brogramming’) interfaces used by women. This leads to remarkable disparities.

In the nascent field of AI, where Malta is blazing a trail, the results of some American work has been patchy at best. Amazon abandoned an embryonic AI system for recruitment in early 2017 when the system showed material bias against female candidates… Its Achilles heel was simple: ‘Artificial Intelligence’ programmed using male CV data!

This clearly amounts to not merely narrow-minded decisions but a certain thoughtlessness in management approach. The significant risk of a largely homogeneous talent pool is the tendency towards a form of ‘braincalming’ rather than brainstorming!

Recent university studies have repeatedly shown that corporate competitive advantage is best served by having a diverse mix of male and female staff. Such teams are more likely to question their assumptions leading to the creation of better products and an overall more innovative culture. In essence, when you don’t have women on the team, it’s costing your business bottom line.

Indeed, with western women now comprising over 85 per cent of all consumer product purchases (and for instance in the US some 65 per cent of new cars), companies need to be thinking like their customers, which may be challenging for ‘brogrammers’ as opposed to more diverse IT teams.

In a digital society where technological literacy is vital, the problem is a divide where the skill set currently favours men. This threatens the core aims of businesses seeking to maximise their profits and customer service. Girls Who Code reports circa 74 per cent of young girls express interest in STEM fields and computer science. However, according to the National Centre for Women & Information Technology, only 25 per cent of the computing workforce was female in 2015.

Technology has become a male bastion from the top down – barely five per cent of tech industry leadership positions are held by women

In addition to the gender gap between male/female salary packets, there is a gender chasm leaving us all poorer as a result of women being left out of the workforce. Even in the US that gap is estimated at five per cent of GDP. In India it is 27 per cent. In Malta it is no secret that female workforce participation remains a weak point in EU league tables.

With an eye on both the Maltese situation and the wider issues of female digital economy participation, I have created ‘Women On IT’, a new initiative to help change the ratio and ‘Hack the Future’. No victims please, no blamestorming and absolutely no anti-male sentiments – ‘WOnIT’ is about improving the economy, closing the gender gap and ensuring that we can all be part of better digital businesses.

From encouraging girls to do STEM at schools through to bringing women back to the workforce after raising children, opportunities in IT are enormous. Moreover, with unemployment at record lows, who better to power the next phase of the Blockchain Island than Maltese women returning to work (retrained) as programmers or other digital specialists?

The words of Silvio Schembri, Parliamentary Secretary for Financial Services, Digital Economy and Innovation, at the launch of the National eSkills strategy in early March resonated with me:

“What is of concern is the lack of female participation in the digital age. It is estimated that if more women were to enter digital jobs, it would create an annual €16 billion GDP for the European economy.”

This isn’t a case of everyday sexism, it’s simple economic logic. The company of the future needs diverse thinking to deliver competitive advantage. ‘Women On IT’ seeks to build a strong ecosystem of women and men providing inspiration, support and mutual learning: fostering a trusting, open and inclusive environment.

‘Women On IT’ was launched in the Xara Lodge on April 15 during a joint meeting with the Malta Business Network. The event was chaired by Joe Zammit Tabone, the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy for Investment Promotion, and guests included the British High Commissioner, Stuart Gill, and the French Ambassador, Brigitte Curmi, as well as diplomatic representatives from the US Embassy and the Australian High Commission.

Mr Schembri gave the opening address noting that: “Women who account for 52 per cent of the continental population hold only 15 per cent of ICT-related jobs. In Malta, the figure is that of 2.7 per cent.”

He added: “With more female participation, we can only further reaffirm our leading position on the global stage. As a government, we seek to equip our younger generation with the necessary capabilities to embark on a fully-fledged career within the digital sector. For all this to bear fruit we need to fully recognise that to make the numerous existing initiatives more accessible to our young women, we need to collectively strive to end gender stereotyping and cultural discouragement which negatively affects our young women and their opportunities in the digital labour market.”

Naturally I am delighted that Mr Schembri has empowered my ‘Women On IT’ initiative as it gains traction. From 2.7 per cent female participation in Malta there is much to be done across every sphere of technology. ‘Women On IT’ is here to exchange ideas, pursue results – even micractions – to deliver a simple ‘win win!’ for Malta – more ‘Women On IT’ means more economic growth and that means greater prosperity for everybody.

We can’t ‘Hack the Future’ alone. Diversity is for everybody, by everybody and for everybody’s benefit.

Beata Young is the founder of ‘Women On IT’.

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