Programmers need women

International Women's Day 2019 : The IT industry and its problem with women

Math almost cost Aya Jaff her A-levels. She only got one point in the subject - today she is one of Germany's best-known programmers. Jaff is 23 years old, likes to wear crop tops or dusky pink trouser suits and speaks as a speaker at developer conferences such as “code.talks”. Female, interested in fashion, not a born math genius and still a successful computer scientist: this makes Aya Jaff an exotic figure in the IT industry.

Less than 30 percent of the employees in the digital industry are female, among the self-employed and founders it is only eleven percent, said State Secretary for Economic Affairs Ulrich Nussbaum in response to a current request from the Green's innovation policy spokeswoman Anna Christmann, which is available to the Tagesspiegel - and sees it It doesn't look as if this imbalance will change anytime soon: Because only one in seven applicants (15 percent) for a position for IT specialists is female, as a survey of more than 500 companies in the IT and telecommunications industry on behalf of the digital association Bitkom shows. The companies are therefore very willing to increase the proportion of women among their own IT specialists: 55 percent declare that they have set themselves this goal internally.

But where do you get it from when fewer and fewer women are studying computer science? Around 8,800 female students chose the subject in 2017, which, according to Bitkom, is almost two percent less than in the previous year. Meanwhile, the number of male first-year students rose by 1.3 percent to around 30,500. The rate is even lower among graduates: only 19 percent were female in 2017 - probably also because there are no role models in science: there are currently only 12.4 Percent of computer science professorships are held by women, as the answer to Christmann's request shows. Here, too, the proportion has stagnated for five years.

A typical job for women

At the beginning of one of the first phases of computer development at the beginning of the 20th century, programming was a typical female occupation: "Programming is like preparing dinner," said Grace Hopper of the "Cosmopolitan" in the 1960s. In 1949 she created the first compiler that translates source code into machine code. In 1957 she developed the programming language Flow-Matic, which used English words as commands for the first time.

Today we live in the digital age - but programming is neither a typical activity for women nor a cool skill. Jaff even hid it from her friends when she wrote her first lines of Java code at the age of 16: “I was embarrassed,” she says. Developers, for them too, they were men without a shower sitting in basements. But because Jaff wanted an app that would replace the substitution plan on the bulletin board at her high school, she learned to program herself. "Mathematical skills from elementary school are sufficient for this," she says.

As Jaff's example shows, practical examples are often needed to get children and young people interested in programming. Computer science lessons are not always computer science lessons. Ursula Köhler, who has a doctorate in computer science and spokesperson for the specialist group “Women and Computer Science” of the Society for Computer Science, calls for teaching about “Computational Thinking”. Both girls and boys can learn to think like a computer in this way.

Away from clichés

Anja Feldmann, one of the most renowned computer scientists in Germany, is also in favor of introducing children to computer science as early as possible. She herself decided on the subject in eleventh grade: “That was my luck,” says Feldmann, who is now the director of the Max Planck Institute for Computer Science in Saarbrücken. In order to increase the proportion of women, she also wants less clichéd depictions of computer science and tech, for example in films and series. “We have to get away from that,” she demands - but even the Federal Ministry of the Interior shows a website on the subject of cyber espionage with a man who has pulled the hood of his black sweater down over his face.

Jaff regularly feels the consequences of such prejudices. For example, when a man at a conference thinks the woman dressed in black is a waitress. "Sorry, I can't get you a beer - I have to go on stage," was Jaff's perplexed answer. “I was really uncomfortable,” she says today. Her role models include Marissa Mayer, programmer and former Yahoo boss. When she lolled on a chaise longue in a blue dress for Vogue in 2013, a PR company asked "Too sexy for IT?" On Twitter.

Feldmann, who holds a doctorate in computer science, was the first woman to be elected to the supervisory board of the software company SAP in 2012. “That didn't bother me,” she says. "To be the only woman there on the employer side was not an issue for me."

Crochet tutoring with soccer example

Time and again women point out discrimination and sexual harassment in the start-up scene. In addition, there are hardly any female investors, so women often have to get a male co-founder on their side or explain the multi-million dollar potential of the crochet market using soccer fields in order to get financing, as Amber Riedl from the Berlin start-up maker is .

“A future industry like the digital must no longer remain a male domain,” demands Green politician Anna Christmann. It is all the more serious that the "alarmingly low proportion of women in the digital industry has literally cemented itself over the past ten years". But the federal government underestimates the problem of too few women in the IT sector “currently massively”. The professors 'program that has existed for ten years and Girls' Day are clearly not enough, there is a lack of new ideas.

The importance of a diverse digital industry in which the programs are conceived and developed not only by men but also by women was shown by examples of voice assistants who do not understand women's voices, recruitment software that only promotes men or health apps that are mostly open to male body is aligned. A Minister of State for Digitization is also “not doing an IT summer for women yet”. Christmann calls for specific offers for girls and women in schools and universities.

A course for women only

They already exist, albeit to an extent that can be expanded. Since 2009, the University of Technology and Economics (HTW) in Berlin has been offering a bachelor's degree in computer science and economics as a purely women's degree. "Women in particular fear that they already have to bring knowledge with them and that they do worse than men," says Juliane Siegeris, who is a professor at the university. That is why the HTW advertises “starting from scratch with IT”. To this end, a mentoring program for women in IT was launched - with promising results: 40 women would enroll every year, 75 percent complete their studies.

Aya Jaff also knows how great the potential is that still needs to be exploited - also in order to recognize and overcome discriminatory structures in the analog world. "With more female coders, there would certainly have been a menstruation app earlier," she says: "And Siri would have recognized female voices right from the start."

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