Women and Technology: An ever-evolving relationship

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By Aadita Chaudhury

Technology and Engineering subject editor

Many of us here at Science Borealis are passionate about encouraging the participation of women in science, engineering, mathematics and technology (STEM) fields, especially this month, which is women’s History Month (March) and contains International Women’s Day  (as addressed in our previous editorial post).

While the life sciences and – to a lesser extent – the physical sciences, have seen a steady increase in the participation of women in the last few decades, women’s participation in engineering has not improved much in the last 10 years. Despite the University of Toronto recently celebrating a record number of female first-year students, the late 2000s saw an overall dip in female enrolment in engineering programs.

In the workforce, women are 45% more likely to leave the technology industry than their male peers, according to recent research from the Center for Talent Innovation. Many other publications have reported the phenomenon of women leaving technology fields in large numbers.

The major reasons cited for this mass exodus is not related to the skillset or potential that many of these women possess, but is more often related to the overall culture in technology-focused workplaces that stifle the professional growth of many women employees. The lack of mentorship and a female-friendly work culture are cited as the main reasons many talented women have left the industry.

Of course, this phenomenon of the marginalization of women in technology has a lot of history behind it. Women’s relationship with technology changed drastically after the Industrial Revolution. A while ago, I wrote on my own blog about a paper by sociologist of technology, Dr. Judy Wajcman, that discusses the history of sexism in STEM fields.

What do we mean when say ‘technology’? The word today most saliently evokes images of civil and mechanical engineering industries as well as information technology. Wajcman argues that these representations of technology illustrate the typical late 19th century, post-Industrial Revolution views of technology, while erasing all innovation undertaken by women in the domestic realm – their contributions to the sciences and technologies in cooking, childcare and communication. When the latter is completely eradicated from the popular imagination of what technology constitutes, it is no wonder women continue to experience erasure and feelings of incompetence when their own input to the improved quality of life that we all capitalize on has been obfuscated.

Perhaps we should aim to acknowledge the technological prowess, critical thinking skills and analytical skills of women of all ages and generations, regardless of whether or not that conforms to our concurrent view of what tech looks like. This broadening of the paradigm will not only ease the anxieties women feel about their abilities but also enable technology-oriented cultures to see themselves more intuitively as part of a greater social fabric, bridging the untenable gap between the low- and the high-tech diasporas.

What I am proposing here is the idea that our imagination of what constitutes technology must grow beyond such essentialized ideas, in order for it become more inclusive of women and people of other genders.

Currently, across Canada, there are various efforts underway to encourage women’s participation in technology and engineering. Some of these organizations include Women in Science and Engineering, Go ENGgirl, Pyladies, Ladies Learning Code, and many others. Continued support for these programs will go a long way towards increasing the representation of women in technology and engineering.

And now for a sampling of technology and engineering news from Science Borealis and around the web.

Once again, we are always in the lookout for new Canadian perspectives in technology and engineering – so please submit your blogs to Science Borealis!

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