The american Silicon Valley is considered a place of longing by not a few. A dazzling paradise for entrepreneurs and visionaries, where the world of tomorrow is conceived, developed and transformed into reality by financially strong corporations such as Google, Apple or Tesla. Product presentations have long been staged as major events, followed online by fans all over the world. Nearly all well-known companies promote a diverse corporate culture, and on stage they strive for a balanced relationship between all genders. Diversity becomes a brand message.
But in the heart of the technology industry, the reality of the audience still speaks a different language. According to the cliché, it is mainly men who determine the picture. Not only among the developers, but also on the executive floors. In the leading German companies, the imbalance is even greater. The history of computer development is actually one that knows female role models. Mathematician Ada Lovelace is regarded by many historians as the first female programmer ever. As early as 1843, she worked with her colleague Charles Babbage on a device that was one of the forerunners of today's computers. Or the physicist Grace Hopper, who did essential development work in computer science in the 1950s. Even during the Second World War, primarily women were involved in programming the first serious calculating machines.
Whereas working with simple computers at this time was still regarded as a supposedly simple office activity, jobs in the IT industry today are among the most sought-after of all. Nevertheless, women are a rarity in IT professions. Male students also dominate the corresponding subjects at universities. The proportion of female computer science students in Germany is only about 23 percent. Although there is now a slightly positive trend in development, a career in IT professions will continue to be attractive for men in 2019.
For industry experts, the reasons for this situation lie in a complex mix of factors. As much as the social perspective on issues of equality has changed in recent years, long-established forms of social conditioning persist in our children's rooms. Boys are encouraged to use technical toys as a matter of course, while girls are encouraged to choose other things. The foundations of the problem are laid early, and the process continues in kindergarten and school. Teachers are often not even aware of this and there are no structures to ensure attention. There is hardly any support for young talent in Germany that would be needed to get creative young women interested in IT. Currently, only the " Girls Day " exists as a nationwide initiative to introduce girls to topics such as information technology and coding. Many young women quickly become enthusiastic once they have come into contact with computer development. The industry has therefore long wanted a much stronger commitment from the political side.
Precisely because the social and structural hurdles make it much more difficult for women to gain a foothold in industry, visible and strong role models are essential. Such as former Yahoo boss Marissa Meyer or Facebook co-managing director Sheryl Sandberg, who also publicly defends the interests of women and, as the mother of more than one child, successfully heads a global company. Even more importance, however, is attached to approachable personalities in the local industry. Women like Fränzi Kühne, who once dropped out of her law studies to have her own agency to advise companies nationwide on digitisation issues. At just 34, she became a supervisory board member of the telecommunications company Freenet a few years ago, and was thereby the youngest woman to hold such a position until then.
How important it is to inspire girls and women for the so-called MINT subjects and a career in information technology is perhaps best illustrated in the area of artificial intelligence. The lack of a female perspective in the development of these and other highly innovative technologies holds the danger that inequalities and discrimination will eventually solidify in algorithms. Because at the moment it is primarily male perspectives that underlie the programmes. But systems that are intended to serve society in general must be developed integratively right from the start.
In many other areas of the IT industry, too, powerful communication roles are increasingly important, because agile work and progressive project management methods have long been standard in the industry. Soft skills such as diplomatic intuition, creativity and empathy are now more important than ever in order to achieve good results in cooperation and mediation between departments or with customers. This results in many new and interesting positions for women. According to surveys conducted by the Institute of German Business, there is already a shortage of more than 200,000 people in MINT subjects. So it's long been about more than just social commitment or image cultivation. Abandoning the female perspective could quickly become an existential risk for companies in the near future.
However, before the IT industry can become a sought-after employer across the genders, many clichés have yet to be overcome. This can only be achieved by active counteraction from politicians, society and the employers themselves. Quite a few women in the industry regard this as a generation project. But those who want to remain competitive can hardly afford to remain in the old role models and established structures in the course of increasing digitalisation and the resulting shortage of skilled workers.