We’re in the middle of a technological revolution in the UK. VR and AR capabilities are evolving every day. Tech giants are acquiring innovative software and tech companies like it’s a game of Monopoly. Teams are creating new designs every week and virtual solutions are providing revolutionary answers to covid-led business problems. But something is missing. And we think we know what it is. In fact we’re sure. It’s women.
In recent decades the push for women in tech has grown but there remains so few in positions of leadership, innovation and design. Why?
It seems to start at school. Despite a big push in the last 10 years to get girls and young women to pursue STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects at a higher level, data collected by WISE shows that in 2018, only 9% of female graduates studied a core STEM subject. Those numbers are shockingly low, and that trend continues on into the workplace. Women make up only 17% of IT specialists in the UK and the number of women in the tech sector has barely shifted over the last 10 years. Only 14% of UK VR companies have female directors.
There are appear to be a few factors driving this issue. Firstly, it doesn’t help that the tech world has been dominated by men. It’s still possible to be one of very few women in the room at an tech-based event. There are also few female role models in the industry and it appears the lack of representation can be a barrier to women entering the industry. Not to mention turn-off from discrimination, inflexible working arrangements and gendered representations that make any non-techy-male uncomfortable.
But can this be changed?
Of course it can! And the answer is quite simple. People in leadership roles can impact the attitudes and culture within their workplace by supporting their female employees and colleagues when any issues related to equality arise.
Nicola Anderson is the Chief Marketing officer at MyTutor, an edtech firm that provides affordable tutoring in London. After having worked in the tech industry for 20 years, Anderson, who has also worked as a coach and mentor helping women overcome their professional fears, feels that a lack of confidence is hindering women’s progress. Some women believe they can’t work in tech, because they aren’t technical enough. In a Guardian article, Anderson says “As in other industries, women in tech often won’t apply for a job if they don’t feel they’re 100% qualified or have exactly the right experience. As a result, women end up moving horizontally where their male peers progress.”
When in pursuit of a job, 8 out of 10 female identifying millennials say they search for employers with a strong record on equality, diversity and inclusion. And understandable demand for working conditions in the 21st Century.
Why is this a problem? Why do women need to be more involved with tech?
Technology is designed to be scaled to large populations, but functionalities, designs and uses are predominantly based on a man’s physical structure. Did you know mobile phones are based on a man’s hand-span meaning women are more likely to suffer with repetitive strain injuries as they’re often over stretching across the screen? That car seats and headrests are shaped around a man’s physique, leading to more fatal female car crashes because women are not as protected as a man would be? And those are just a few examples. Now imagine a woman was part of those discussions, how different could these designs be? What innovative ideas could have been created that were safe for both men and women?
Women have proven time and time again that their intellect can match, if not excel, male counterparts, that their input within the world of technology and STEM topics is priceless – just take these women at NASA. But more often than not, working arrangements can cause another hurdle for them to overcome. Many great minds are also often mothers, but that’s not to say they can’t change the world and have the answers to the unsolved riddle – they just need space and flexibility to do so. If more women were able to demonstrate their knowledge and put their educated skills to use, how much further could these tech developments have reached by now? Without females on the team, the tech industry is missing half the potential.
Gendered representations are another area perpetuating issues within the conversation of women in the tech industry. Take tech right now, when you think of VR what do you think of? Gaming? Heavy VR headsets? Male focused right? Even terminology has recently been debated as too male focused. The scientific background of technology is understandable but as argued by many, more can be done to make the tech industry more inclusive. To make it a comfortable environment for all to explore and have opportunities to collaborate with a much wider vocabulary. It’s ok to talk about the emotive focus technology can bring, it’s ‘magical’ element that restores and transforms. It’s practical use that can save lives, can bring households together and empower societies. This type of communication, in partnership with scientific terms, can help us to explore what can really be a game-changer for all.
The good news…
Things are changing…even though numbers are small, and it’s still an issue worth flagging, there is a growing number of women within tech, including areas of VR. Women are learning to fight for their place at the table and pushing back when faced with discrimination. And thanks to COVID19, new forms of working patterns are opening up, allowing more space for women to be involved.
Here are just a few examples of incredible women to watch in 2021. Women leading the way, knocking down barriers and doors for others to walk through.
4 Women in VR to watch in 2021/22
VR can sound slick, futuristic and fantastical, but it’s a powerful tool with many applications that can be used to achieve a lot of good. Sarah Hill, who has suffered with debilitating anxiety, realised that through a VR headset, popular and effective neurofeedback treatments for anxiety could be recreated and made more accessible. Healium helps people improve their focus, sleep, and human performance through virtual and augmented reality.
Alzeimhers and Dementia are on the rise and if you’ve ever cared for someone with Alzeimhers or Dementia, you’ll understand what drove Carrie Shaw to create Embodied Labs. Embodied Labs gives caregivers the opportunity to step into the shoes of the person you’re caring for. It gives people the chance to experience what having macular degeneration, hearing loss and other chronic conditions feels like. Having these experiences develops a felt empathic understanding that then enriches the quality of care being given. VR can serve as a reference for caregivers to better understand their patient.
Empathy was the driver for Morgan Mercer to create Vantage Point, a company that offers workplace and diversity training through the medium of VR. As a bi-racial woman, Morgan believed that colleagues and peers would have more empathy for her experiences in the workplace if they could walk a mile in her shoes. Through VR she has made that happen. Vantage Point places the user into situations where they can confront their biases, prejudices and beliefs. It’s difficult to imagine that training being carried out in any other way, especially when you add in the time and cost factor. It’s an incredible training opportunity.
Rehab can be boring and isolating, but thanks to Dr Isabel Van De Keere, it no longer has to be. After suffering an accident that made her immobile for a long period, Immersive Rehab was founded.The company creates immersive VR programs to help improve patients’ recovery. Rehab is often about redeveloping motor skills and building strength, but moving your leg up and down 25 times a day can be very unengaging! This is because your brain is not able to link your movements to anything. Consequently, undergoing rehab in a VR world, can be much more engaging and effective as you are able to move virtual objects around you which feels very real.
So what’s next?
Thanks to the current virtual revolution, women in tech, including areas of VR, are slowly having more opportunities to bring new ideas, new perspectives and intellect to vital stages of development. More companies are looking at improving staff benefits: instead of offering free table tennis games at lunch, they are focusing on flexible working, part time options, higher pensions and wider healthcare provision – things that really matter. Bosses are recognising the need to diversify their teams and the importance of wellbeing, two areas that provide space for women to join the conversation. So long as there is fair opportunity for women to progress in this industry and they feel comfortable doing so, there’s no reason why the 14% female UK VR directors won’t become 50% in the near future.
Here at Circus we are passionate about our employees and are made up predominantly of working-parents, with a high proportion of women leading strategy and laying fundamental foundations as well as out on the field. We also communicate openly and creatively, creating safe environments for clients and staff to enjoy without intimidation through techy-jargon. We create a flexible working space that is fair to all and maintain a virtual office environment, allowing our staff to focus on what they do best.
Are you a woman working in the tech industry and in the virtual revolution? What are your thoughts? What else can be done to support talented individuals in this field?