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By Laura Hutton – Wife and mother, mathematician and Fintech-founder
What troubles me, when I think about gender parity within sciences and technology is how little seems to have changed in my lifetime.
From the age of 4 until 18, I attended an all-girls school and my passion for mathematics was clear from the beginning. Yet few, you’ll be surprised to know, shared my enthusiasm. I was the only person to study further maths at A-Level and was one of just three women in my year at Durham to complete a Masters in Maths.
Like any other graduate, when I thought about what to do next, the options didn’t inspire me. I was a 23 year old female, so the “options” were marketing or HR or because I’m “academic”, accountancy.
These weren’t me. And what’s worse, was that I had no idea what I was I going do. Now, if I had been a boy, it would have been obvious; good at maths? Check, don’t want to be an accountant? Check, how about coding?
I never had that conversation. Can I stand here and tell you that I wanted to code, that I had always wanted to code? No, in fact, I’d never coded in my life, nor had I met anyone who did. My career path in to software was purely by chance – I just happened to join a consultancy who also built software. I look back and wonder why no one encouraged me to code.
Did you know that the first computer program was written by a woman, Ada Lovelace in the 1800s? Did you also know that up until the 1980s, computing was a discipline for both men and women? So, what changed? Well, computers started to become a household item and were marketed almost exclusively to men and boys. From this moment on, the number of women in computing fell sharply.
That was back in 2006 and the world has moved on. We have a female prime-minister, and strong, talented women running leading generational changing software companies (for example, Sheryl Sandberg). So the female maths grad who’s looking for a career and coding isn’t encouraged, that’s a thing of the past…right?
Sadly not. I am a co-founder of a financial software company and women in my industry are still few and far between. For every 50 applications we receive, we get just 1 female applicant.
Now I don’t propose that we can manufacture the next generation of women scientists out of thin air. Because we can’t. I am running work experience programs for 16/17 year old girls to show them what is possible. I can start a campaign to attract more female maths and physics graduates, but the fact is, there aren’t enough. Much bigger changes are needed.
Firstly, major societal changes are necessary. Traditional stereotypes need to be redefined; girls do not just grow up to be mothers, teachers and nurses. They can be astronauts, surgeons and firefighters. How we educate our children, including the toys and books we buy and how we market these products,will in some way influence their career choices later on in life . Meccano is not just for our sons!
Schools must work proactively to change the subject-gender-bias. Just 21% of all physics A-level studies in 2016 were women. We need high profile, articulate, intelligent women who can show what can be achieved by studying the sciences.
It’s not just change at a grassroots level. Women have the ultimate responsibility of making sure the human race continues – an incredibly wonderful yet heavy burden. Help is needed to allow us to balance that responsibility with our rights and desires to have a career. I recently took 7 months off work to have my baby daughter, which some deemed to be ‘an awfully long time’ – Now I’m back full-time, I know first-hand, the rewards and the challenges of juggling both. We need to stop looking at maternity leave and child rearing as an inconvenience, it’s a necessity.
None of this is rocket science. It is a basic need for equality. It’s feminism. I detest that this word has now such negative connotations. True feminism means totally equality for all, embracing the natural physical and emotional differences between men and women – the things that make us unique.
I believe all our daughters and our sons should be taught to be feminists, and to be believe that they can and should fight for total equality.
No one should have to ‘accept’ that inequality still exists. No one should ever have to limit their dreams because of their gender, nor let others limit those dreams for them. I have made a promise to my daughter to teach her this. I can only hope that by the time she is my age, the world that she sees is one of true parity and equality.