Girls outperform boys in technology and engineering literacy, according to a US test administered annually since 2014.
There is a pervading assumption that male brains are more naturally suited to ‘systemising’ thought patterns, most typically associated with the technology and engineering industries. This unconscious bias follows female candidates into the workplace, but recent evidence is emerging to suggest that female candidates could in fact be better equipped for STEM careers.
In a national test administered by the US government for the first time in May, girls outperformed boys in technology and engineering literacy. The results of this test, formally known as the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), provide further proof that the gender imbalance that currently pervades the tech industry is not due to a lack of natural aptitude, but rather to deeply ingrained bias that affects women as early as primary school and pervades recruiting and retention for these fields.
So what can educators do to foster these skills, and more importantly – how can employers make sure that technically-minded women are hired in equal proportion to men?
The NAEP test was created to assess students’ abilities to understand technological principles, design solutions, and collaborate with their peers. Among eighth-grade students, 45% of girls and 42% of boys scored in the ‘proficient’ range. Yet, women make up only 26% of the computing workforce and 11% of tech executives at privately held venture-backed companies, according to Forbes.
The NAEP test proves that there is no natural disparity in technological aptitude between boys and girls, it seems instead there is a gender bias inherent in the technology sector’s hiring process and work culture. It’s clear that systemic change is necessary to address this gender imbalance – but what specific actions can employers take to eradicate bias from their organisations?
Pursuing Gender Equity
In an article for the Guardian, psychologist Richard Nisbett argues that recognising our own impartiality is the first step to removing bias from the recruitment process: “There is vastly more going on in our heads than we realise. The implications of this research for everyday life are profound. Firstly, we should pay more attention to context. This will improve the odds that we’ll correctly identify situational factors that are influencing our behaviour and that of others.”
Of course, it is extremely difficult to root out our own prejudices in pursuit of impartiality. One way recruiters can ensure that their hiring procedure remains equitable is by instituting objective data analysis techniques, thereby removing (or at least reducing) human error from the equation.
While it’s clear that employers have both a moral and a legal obligation to pursue fair hiring practices, studies have also proven that diverse, inclusive workplaces are also good for business.
D&I Delivers Results
Research shows that gender-diverse teams outperform male-dominated teams in terms of productivity, organisational effectiveness, and financial health, according to The National Center for Women & Information Technology.
Meanwhile, employers who hope to attract graduate recruits would do well to focus on D&I initiatives. Millennials – who are on track to make up nearly 40% of the total workforce – value diversity and inclusivity in the workplace. According to a study conducted by Deloitte and Billie Jean King Leadership Initiative (BJKLI), 83% of Millennials are more likely to actively engage with an organisation they feel fosters an inclusive culture, compared to only 60% who perceive their culture as non-inclusive.
Tech companies that recognize the value of building a diverse, welcoming environment will reap the benefits – not just to worker satisfaction and productivity, but to their bottom line.