The Malta Independent 13 June 2024, Thursday
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Queen beats king? Challenges in representation or how to get women in tech

Sunday, 9 June 2024, 09:20 Last update: about 13 days ago

Written by Nafsika Papavasileiou

We are playing poker, and after shuffling the cards and distributing them to the players, two of them gloat: one holds three Queens (QQQ), and the other holds three Kings (KKK). As they flip their cards, the player with the Kings takes the pot. This outcome aligns with traditional expectations, but why does the King beat the Queen? What might start off as a silly question could have significant implications across a wide range of choices and situations.

 The social element

Children begin to be socialised and directed into gender roles even before birth. Gender reveal parties have become events where attendees witness, often in spectacular ways, the gender of the unborn child. From there, life experiences build up, as boys are given cars to play with and girls are given dolls. Boys are encouraged and cheered on in competition and physical sports, while girls are encouraged to be gentle and sensitive to others. In a largely unconscious way, family, society and those around us set expectations for what a person's life should be about, and a significant part of this comes from gender norms.

I was fortunate that at 16, I had the opportunity to travel and change continents, moving from Europe to the US to play sports competitively and continue my studies. As a female travelling without family, this was challenging and sometimes stressful. However, it was also a character-shaping experience. After finishing my studies and returning to Europe (and eventually stumbling into Malta), I found myself working in the tech space, where representation is generally... not great.

 

Women in Stem

The easy way to look at the situation is to attribute it to market supply. How can companies employ female developers or female cloud engineers when, after advertising and tapping into recruitment agencies, no CVs from prospective female candidates are received? This, however, misses the point of the problem: no applications are being received because fewer females pursue careers in Stem (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). According to data reported by the National Statistics Office (NSO) in 2022, there were 597 male graduates in Stem subjects compared to 247 female graduates.

How do we get more women in Stem? A key element, which cannot be overstated (but is not the only one), is representation. Caitlin Clark took college basketball by storm this year, getting viewership for the final NCAA games up to 18.89 million viewers on average per game, exceeding the male NBA finals average for 2023 of 11.64 million viewers per game. The impact of this? All girls want to play basketball. A school in Indiana reported how attendance for training sessions went from three to four middle school girls during the offseason to 500 to 550 this year, with many of the attendees wearing Caitlin Clark (or Paige Bueckers) shirts. It is crucial to show that Stem is accessible and a viable career path for female (and male) students, and that working in tech can offer equal opportunities for all.

Marie Curie did it at a time and in a space where it was unthinkable. In the famous photo with 29 other Nobel Prize winners (including Albert Einstein and Niels Bohr), she stood there, showing that talent can get you there, and that science and technology should be accessible to all, irrespective of gender, background or other characteristics.

 

Creating opportunities for women in tech

To foster a more inclusive environment in tech, we need to create more opportunities for women to enter and thrive in the field. This includes mentorship programmes, scholarships and targeted recruitment efforts. Additionally, companies should implement policies that support work-life balance, such as flexible working hours and parental leave, to make tech careers more appealing and sustainable for women.

Moreover, early education plays a crucial role in shaping career aspirations. Schools should incorporate Stem subjects in engaging ways and highlight female role models in science and technology. By normalizing women's presence in these fields from a young age, we can help dismantle stereotypes and encourage more girls to pursue Stem careers.

 

Conclusion

King may beat Queen in poker, but it might be time to create spaces and opportunities where this dynamic is reversed. By addressing gender biases, promoting representation and providing support, we can pave the way for more women to enter and excel in the tech industry. Through concerted efforts, we can ensure that talent, not gender, determines success in Stem fields.

Nafsika Papavasileiou is a co-founder and managing director at MelaTech Ltd (www.melatech.me), a company focused on connecting the tech community locally. Through initiatives such as conferences and events, the company looks into establishing links within the local tech community


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