Com­puter pro­gram­ming has long been a male­dom­i­nated realm. But a dig­i­tal revo­lu­tion is ripe for women to boost their pres­ence.

VOGUE Australia - - News - By Zara Wong.

A dig­i­tal revo­lu­tion is ripe for women to boost their pres­ence in the tech­nol­ogy realm.

In 2016, there are sev­eral state­ments that re­main undis­puted. The fash­ion in­dus­try is ex­cited about Raf Si­mons’s de­but at Calvin Klein, and in turn Maria Grazia Chi­uri’s at Dior. Brexit still raises a ques­tion mark. And the Sydney prop­erty mar­ket is si­mul­ta­ne­ously the most tired con­ver­sa­tion topic yet the one that ev­ery­one has some­thing to say about. Here’s an­other one – we’re liv­ing in an age of a dig­i­tal revo­lu­tion. We’re touch­ing our smart­phones more than 85 times a day, which is of course higher than what we all es­ti­mate. About 83 per cent of Australia’s pop­u­la­tion ac­cesses the in­ter­net, and tech­no­log­i­cal lit­er­acy – while con­sid­ered a bit of cul­tural ca­chet at the mo­ment – will in­creas­ingly be re­quired. We’re in an age when a mod­ern su­per­model like Kar­lie Kloss wants to ex­tend her per­sonal brand to go be­yond the fash­ion run­way, so sets up Kode With Klossy, a plat­form of cod­ing camps and schol­ar­ships that en­cour­ages school-aged girls to learn com­puter cod­ing. It was a classic smartest-girl-in-the-room move, cho­sen in lieu of the usual fash­ion line/beauty brand/mem­oir route, and it’s ac­tu­ally mak­ing a pos­i­tive dif­fer­ence to the fu­ture of girls who look up to the mul­ti­task­ing model. Their in­volve­ment is also help­ing to shift the stigma of cod­ing be­ing some­thing more suited to boys.

It’s about time. The STEM in­dus­tries – that is, sci­ence, tech­nol­ogy, en­gi­neer­ing and math­e­mat­ics – have star­tlingly fewer women em­ployed in them, or elect­ing to study these sub­jects at univer­sity level. While there are even fewer peo­ple grad­u­at­ing with com­puter sci­ence de­grees in the past decade over­all, the drop in women grad­u­at­ing with them is even more se­vere at 50 per cent. There is a per­cep­tion that STEM sub­jects are re­served for the boys, and that girls are bet­ter suited to right­side brain (artis­tic) sub­jects, a dam­ag­ing stereo­type. This un­truth

is at odds with not only stud­ies to­day but also the his­tory of tech­nol­ogy. Sig­nif­i­cant fig­ures in tech his­tory are fe­male. Grace Hopper pro­grammed one of the world’s first com­put­ers and was in­flu­en­tial in the es­tab­lish­ment of early com­puter pro­gram­ming lan­guage COBOL. The six all-fe­male pri­mary pro­gram­mers (Kay McNulty, Betty Jen­nings, Betty Sny­der, Mar­lyn Wescoff, Fran Bi­las and Ruth Lichter­man) be­hind an­other of the world’s first gen­er­alpur­pose com­put­ers, ENIAC, have gone down in com­puter his­tory. And at the very be­gin­ning there was 19th-cen­tury math­e­mati­cian Ada Lovelace, who worked on a ma­chine con­sid­ered to be the first com­puter, mak­ing her the­o­ret­i­cally the world’s first com­puter pro­gram­mer. And who said girls were bad at tech?

“We as Aus­tralian women need to be prepar­ing our­selves for a dig­i­tal fu­ture and the best way to pre­pare our­selves for that is to ac­tu­ally un­der­stand what dig­i­tal skills we re­quire,” says Anas­ta­sia Cam­maroto, chief in­for­ma­tion of­fi­cer of BT Fi­nan­cial Group, who is speak­ing at Vogue Codes, a sum­mit held on Oc­to­ber 14 in Sydney cen­tred around women in tech­nol­ogy and en­cour­ag­ing more fe­males to be­come more tech­no­log­i­cally lit­er­ate. Cam­maroto grew up en­joy­ing both the arts and the sciences in high school, in­ter­ests that were com­bined in her en­gi­neer­ing and later in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy ca­reer ex­pe­ri­ences, which has been both cre­ative as well as closely peo­ple ori­ented. “It is so in­grained in us that boys are bet­ter in sci­ence and maths when the facts prove that girls are just as good at that, and these myths are play­ing out and they inf lu­ence the way we inf lu­ence our chil­dren,” she con­tin­ues. “I’m fas­ci­nated now to see what the next gen­er­a­tion of girls is go­ing to be be­cause we’re hav­ing con­ver­sa­tions now that are say­ing, ‘You can be any­thing.’” And as Kloss said to Forbes about her pas­sion for get­ting girls in­ter­ested in com­put­ers: “I think women are cur­rently an un­der­utilised and poorly sup­ported group of po­ten­tial em­ploy­ees in an in­dus­try that has a widen­ing gap of un­filled jobs. So I think the op­por­tu­nity is just tremen­dous.”

The di­min­ish­ing num­ber of peo­ple grad­u­at­ing from STEM fields is in­con­gru­ous in light of the preva­lence of tech­nol­ogy and dig­i­tal in the world to­day. “The world has been changed by tech­nol­ogy,” says Kathryn Par­sons, co-CEO and co-founder of De­coded, one of the largest tech­nol­ogy ed­u­ca­tors in the world and a key­note speaker of Vogue Codes. “Every sin­gle prod­uct we use is im­pact­ing our be­hav­iour, our lives, and it’s pre­dom­i­nantly been en­coded in lines of code writ­ten by men,” she says. There is a slew of poorly de­signed prod­ucts that miss-aim for women: health apps that ig­nore men­strual cy­cles, 48 per cent of role-play­ing video games that have a fe­male char­ac­ter as an option (com­pared to 98 per cent of­fer­ing male char­ac­ters) – in­ci­den­tally, this video game study was con­ducted by a 12-yearold girl, fur­ther proof that tech­no­log­i­cal ex­per­tise need not have an age bar­rier, ei­ther. Men are more of­ten the test sub­jects of med­i­cal tri­als, which makes med­i­ca­tion less safe for women. And, alarm­ingly, most vir­tual as­sis­tants, like Siri, do not recog­nise the vo­cab­u­lary as­so­ci­ated with do­mes­tic abuse or rape, which will af­fect one in three women some time in their life. It is also a sad irony that they mostly de­faulted to a fe­male voice.

Amped-up tech­no­log­i­cal lit­er­acy fur­ther im­proves cog­ni­sance of how things work around us and ex­poses one to dif­fer­ent ways of think­ing and learn­ing. It’s even use­ful to brush up on ter­mi­nol­ogy to bet­ter im­prove com­pre­hen­sion in techre­lated sit­u­a­tions, whether it’s be­ing aware of the dif­fer­ence be­tween cod­ing and ma­chine learn­ing or a web-based app ver­sus a na­tive app. And as fu­tur­ist Marc Good­man, who has con­sulted for the FBI and In­ter­pol, says: “If you con­trol the code, you con­trol the world.”

There is also the ob­vi­ous ben­e­fit of up­skilling – but within the ac­tual learn­ing of the tech­nol­ogy is the ap­peal that it is a space with room for cre­ativ­ity and in­no­va­tion. We need to have the tools and un­der­stand­ing of it to build from it, whether it be web-based soft­ware like Canva – whose co-founder Me­lanie Perkins will also be speak­ing at Vogue Codes – or for so­cial change.

“I want women to be a part of tech­nol­ogy and cre­ate suc­cess­ful busi­nesses from it,” adds Par­sons, who is ac­tive within the tech en­tre­pre­neur space but con­cedes there is a long way to go. Cur­rently in Australia, one in four start-ups are founded by women, and of those in the tech space, the num­ber drops to less than four per cent.

And it can be a ticket out of the or­di­nary to­wards self-made suc­cess; the #star­tu­plife is skewed to­wards com­edy, but ul­ti­mately por­trayed to be some­thing that many are striv­ing to­wards. High-pro­file tech stars like Mark Zucker­berg of Face­book or Sophia Amoruso of Nasty Gal are con­sid­ered role mod­els for a life bet­ter worked – and lived.

So what are you wait­ing for? Get with the pro­gram.

Kar­lie Kloss

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