UK media failing women and tech

2 mins read

Last Friday (8th March) marked International Woman’s Day (IWD), a yearly event which celebrates females all over the world and aims to encourage gender balance.

A survey conducted by Ipsos Mori, on behalf of IWD, found that half of those questioned believe that young women will have a better life than women from their parent’s generation and 65% said achieving equality between men and women was important to them personally.

But, as far as we have females have come, from the suffragette movement, to Marie Curie being the first women to win the Nobel prize; to Ada Lovelace’s work in computing, we still have far to go.

While the number of women pursuing STEM subjects at university has increased over the last decade, figures from the Department for Education show that schoolgirls in England are still substantially less likely than boys to consider taking STEM subjects at A-Level. A survey by the Raspberry Pi Foundation, found just 15% of 15-year-old girls said they planned to study Computing. Contrast that with 85% of boys.

The reasoning behind this has long been debated, but could it be that media coverage has a role to play? The research from Raspberry Pi found that each of the women competing in the reality show, Love Island 2018, were written about in the UK media on average 7 times more often than 50 of the UK’s top female technology role models. Interestingly, UK men’s lifestyle magazines were twice as likely to write about female technology leaders than the women’s lifestyle press.

Is that simply because women don’t care, that we’d rather read about reality TV? I very much doubt it, why wouldn’t we want to read about the achievements women have made in business for example?

Within the most read UK women’s lifestyle magazines, there were 14 articles written about fashion and beauty for every one written about careers, compared to one careers piece for every three fashion and grooming articles within the most read UK men’s lifestyle magazines.

Comparing the most read women and men’s media titles, the most popular topics within women’s lifestyle media were fashion (37%) and beauty (26%), while politics (5%) and careers (4%) were far less popular. By contrast, men’s coverage was more balanced: fashion (21%) and politics (16%) came top, with grooming (12%) and careers (12%) close behind.

“It really comes down to balance, but greater diversity in the women, interests, and careers that saturate our popular culture would undoubtedly impact the workplace gender imbalance that persists in sectors such as technology and science,” said Maria Quevedo, Managing Director, Code Club & Raspberry Pi Foundation.

“Research consistently finds that the presence of role models is a highly effective way to inspire women and minorities to become interested in studying subjects and working in industries where they are underrepresented. So, it’s alarming to see such a dramatic imbalance in visibility for female technology leaders.

“While we ensure female role models are highly visible within our organisation and its activities, everyday role models in wider society – whether parents, teachers, sisters, journalists, bloggers, or celebrities – are just as important in shaping the values, beliefs, and ambitions of girls and women.

“All genders are equally eligible and capable of enjoying and excelling at computing, and it would be invaluable to see this reflected in popular culture.”

Wouldn’t it be great to see women lifestyle magazines making a more positive contribution and promoting females in STEM? …We can but hope!