Women: the next Mark Zuckerbergs?

Sarah Webb comments on the increasing opportunities for women in the tech space.

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From Ada Lovelace in the 1800s, known as the world’s first computer programmer, to successful female entrepreneurs today, such as fashion imagineer Nixi Killick and eco-fashion designer Candy Maaka-Stoten, women in the tech space is hardly a new concept. Yet, there exists a crude stereotype that the key players in the tech space are limited to geeky men in their garages playing with tools and gadgets. And what this regularly brings home is the fact that the successes of female entrepreneurs often go unsung.

Although the tech world is largely male-dominated at this point in time, this has not deterred many young women from jumping in and making waves. Women are doing some incredible things in business in Australia. From fashion, through to tech, more women are embracing the risk of starting their own companies. In fact, as of June last year, the Gender Global Entrepreneurship and Development Index ranked Australia as the second best country in the world to be female entrepreneur, after the United States.

With the decline of the manufacturing industry and rise in the use of technology, the landscape of Australia’s workforce is constantly changing and young people are increasingly spotting opportunities and finding gaps in the market to launch their own technological businesses.

In order to accommodate this trend, Robogals Newcastle is a student-run non-profit organisation aimed at engaging schoolgirls in engineering topics from a young age, with the long-term goal of increasing female participation in science, technology, engineering and mathematical fields.

Robogals offer free school workshops from an experienced collective of UON students, and visit schools to run LEGO robotic workshops and mentor teams through competitions, mostly targeted at girls aged 10-14. The university students are provided with the necessary training to teach LEGO robotics, and an important goal of the organisation is not only to create a positive impact on the schools, but also to provide a rewarding experience for the dedicated students who volunteer their time and skills.

Robogals was founded by undergraduate engineering student Marita Cheng in Melbourne in 2008. Today, Robogals has 20 chapters across Australia, the United Kingdom, Europe, and most recently the USA, together running workshops for more than 11,000 girls.

Unfortunately, in the United States alone, only 13 per cent of engineers in the workforce are women. At U.S. colleges, women make up 54 per cent of all freshmen, but only 17.5 per cent of engineering freshman, and, since 2008, this number is decreasing. With this in mind, it’s true that there are some women out there who question whether they want to be seen as the opposite of what society deems as the ‘it’ girl. What is needed to attract women to the industry is a shift in mentality.

Failure to open women up to the tech space at impressionable schooling age could certainly condemn our next generation to becoming users rather than masters of technological innovation. Exposure at a young age would open up its potential to more young Australians, inspiring women in particular to take a leap into the unknown, inspiring them to travel down the tech path.

We should think of these skills in the same way as we do reading, writing and mathematics: as essential. If one can learn to create early on in life, it becomes part of their nature.

Interestingly, a common theme emerging in the success of programs like Robogals is the idea that tech-savvy women should never have to go it alone. There is a wealth of knowledge available to anyone interested in the technology sector through the experiences and support of others, and an extraordinary number of ways out there to connect with these like-minded women.

Although financial risk and the fear of failure can pose as obstacles to women wanting to break into the technological space, the passion of young girls and successful females in this field is evidence enough of the phenomenal change and positive disruption they’re making to this industry, and in a wider sense, the world. This is what needs to be recognised; technology should be seen more as a vehicle to drive creative innovation.

That being said, ladies, the scariest step when you’re entering the tech space is taking the first one. Women too have the potential to be the next Mark Zuckerberg – just with better dress sense.

Image: Informatica Sarà Lei

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