Few months ago I left my job in IT to pursue a fabulous opportunity in the humanitarian sector at Plan International. I still work as a project manager of digital projects, but with a focus on children's rights and gender equality. The last months have been so exciting and full of discoveries that they deserve a separate post, but here I take the chance to translate my latest column on Yliopisto-Lehti where I talk about some of the learnings around gender equality in technology. If this post sparks your curiosity, I have recently given a talk on the topic at University of Helsinki and you can find the slides here.
(first published on YL 9/2019)
For a long time I believed that fighting for gender equality in science and technology was a matter of access and equal opportunities. In reality, the issue is way deeper and more dramatic. Why is it crucial to have gender balance in STEM?
The first reason links with economic equality. Positions in the field of technology, science, and software development are on the rise and they are prestigious and well-paying jobs. If women will be cut out of these roles, the result will be a spread economic inequality. Financial independence is a necessary step for gender equality. Nowadays in Finland only 29% of STEM professionals are women (EU average is 41% and Finland is placed third to last).
Another important factor is that lack of diversity among creators of technology and science produces dangerous realities. For example, research in medicine focuses especially - sometime exclusively - on male subjects, as female hormones are seen as a complication. The exclusion of women from creating tech exacerbates gender inequality; we are left with vocal assistants (always female) that laugh off sexual or verbal harassment; self-declaring all-inclusive health apps that have no function to track the menstrual cycle; predictive keyboards that show only male emojis when the user types "doctor" or "CEO"; vocal assistants that respond better to male voices; women systematically under attack on social media. Women become second-class users and consumers.
Science and technology have been modelling the world we live in for decades and their influence on our lives will only grow. Women need to have a role in progress or they will be excluded from the future.