Women in Tech – Epitech advocates for gender balance in the IT sector
International Women’s Rights Day, celebrated around the world on 8 March, is an opportunity to advocate for gender equality and to take a look at what has been done and what still needs to be done to help forge a gender equal world.
“9 out of 10 high school students think that female computer science graduates are at a disadvantage compared to men”: these are the results of a joint study conducted by Epitech and Ipsos in November 2021, regarding the proportion of women in digital professions, a sector in which women are still largely under-represented. Through this survey involving 800 high school students and 400 parents, Epitech offers keys to understanding and, above all, responding to this societal issue.
Despite the growing influence of digital technology in society, the numerous job openings for IT experts and the wide range of career opportunities, young women are still in the minority when it comes to choosing a higher education path in technology and IT. If the proportion of women remains lower than men, it is due to some extent by their post-secondary orientation and the influence of their peers. The reason for this are the sexist preconceived mentalities about their future integration into these fields of activity, which are largely represented by men today.
A total of 37% of female high school students are thinking of going to a Computer Science school, compared to 66% of males. However, 56% of girls are interested in computing and digital technology. Furthermore, although 97% of parents consider it important or even essential to encourage diversity in the tech sector, the study shows that only 33% of girls are encouraged by their parents to pursue these careers. In short, the survey reveals that girls are less familiar with the IT professions – only 30% of high school girls feel that they are well informed.
In a recent interview for the magazine “Programmez”, Emmanuel Carli (General Director of Epitech), Cécile Duvigneau (Pedagogical director of Epitech Technology, Bordeaux campus) and Chloé Devoyod (Pedagogical Vice Director of Epitech Technology, Lille campus) have tackled the result of this study in order to provide a clearer perspective on a subject that is both educational, but also societal, and above all reflect on future solutions.
What are the reasons of this underrepresentation?
Chloé D.: “For a very long time, certain jobs were reserved for men, others for women, and it was so anchored in our societies that nobody was wondering about it. The tech sector was perceived as being a men’s field, and it is difficult to change mentalities: if the underlying trends are visible on a population level, the changes must be made in each school, in each family and at the individual level. It’s a vicious circle: when young girls see very few women in a field, they automatically ask themselves: “Is this normal? “, “Is this field made for me?”, “Do I belong here?”
It is obvious that the representation matters a lot: when we see women in tech professions, positions of hight responsibility and women scientists for example, young girls will project themselves much more in those areas. We need more women role models in order to encourage young girls to choose scientific career pathways!”.
The Ipsos study initiated by Epitech reveals that the main obstacles are the young girl’s perception regarding their level in science specialties and their lacking knowledge regarding different professions and careers evolution in those areas (and here we can add parents perceptions as well who are the main influencers).
Cécile D.: “Young girls and parents need to be made aware regarding the multiplicity of tech professions. You can be a developer in the industry sector, in health, in finance and so on… Tech jobs are not reduced only to cybersecurity and not everyone studying IT will become a hacker! The variety of possible fields of digital professions should encourage young girls to take an interest in it. Parents also need to be aware of this so that they can best help their daughters in their orientation.”
Emmanuel C.: “We have a general impression that it’s somehow mandatory to be good in mathematics to be able to follow computing studies, which is not the case at all and has been contradicted recently by MIT as well. But even if girls have usually better grades than boys in school, they have less self confidence in their abilities to succeed in science and even more in IT. Those are things we must change once for all. And parents have a huge role to play at that level.”
What role can schools play to foster gender balance?
Cécile D.: “Schools have several levers for action. The first is to intervene and inform as soon as possible, ideally in middle School and present pupils the IT professions with alumni representants both male and female. There also needs to be more gender diversity at career fairs. The second lever of action is played by the school’s management: the school personnel should be a real representation of gender balance, because on contrary this can be a brake for young girls who would not dare to enter a school managed mainly by men. The last lever is to organise for high school and university students different conferences tackling discrimination and sexism topics.”
Why is this an important factor in our future?
Cécile D.: “Promoting these female role models and encouraging gender diversity in the tech professions is a challenge for our societies and we need to continue to change our old mentalities. It’s crucial in order to be able to live in a more egalitarian society, a society where little girls will have a future full of possibilities just as little boys do.
Emmanuel C.: “We hope that this first study carried out by our school will raise awareness of the entire chain of influence, prescription and advice. Our historical position within a sector of education that we initiated more than twenty years ago pushes us to look for new ways to fight this situation and the stereotypes that come with it. We wish good luck to all those who will take action so that, together and in a timely manner, significant progress can be made.“
Epitech’ initiatives to foster gender balance in the IT sector:
Epitech Technology regularly organises programming workshops called “coding clubs”. They are addressed to high school students, regardless of their background, gender or studies. The coaching is provided by the school’s students who volunteer to share their knowledge. Thanks to these sessions, it is possible to exchange ideas about computer science, to discover the digital world and to widen the range of career options for everyone. By acting directly in classrooms, which are still generalist in terms of field of study, it enables us to have a mixed audience and to prove that coding is not a question of gender and thus to give new perspectives for their future studies.
Many associations have also been created, such as E-mma in 2013, which is now present in the 16 Epitech branches in France and Europe, with over 500 members. Supported by the Femme@Numérique foundation, E-mma offers computing initiation workshops for adults and young children. Their partnership with Google Digital Workshop has enabled them to promote these sessions directly to parents and teachers in order to highlight the importance of early action for young children. In addition, it is present at numerous forums and round tables, such as the one organised as part of Global Impact Day with DocuSign on “Diversity, an emergency for Tech”.
Moreover, as part of the Amazon Future Engineer programme, EPITA and Epitech Technology have partnered with Amazon to offer up to €7,500* per year of support to 30 young female scholarship holders who wish to study computer science at their school.
For more information on Epitech’s mission regarding the promotion of gender diversity in the IT sector, click here.