Women in tech: Why should you care?

As technology advances in the coming years, we can fully expect Britain to be pushing the boundaries of innovation. After all, we invented the World Wide Web, and ARM architecture, and the Dyson, and Heston Blumenthal. We've proved that the UK isn't just some adorable village in which vicars on bicycles deliver glass milk bottles to a post office run by the pig from Babe. We've been all fierce and modern. We've hosted the Olympics. We've got a train that runs to Paris under the sea. We're completely 21st-century.

So why are we now celebrating International Women in IT Day? Surely the UK, with all its forward thinking, has a completely balanced workforce with no barriers to entry for any person of any gender, race or minority? In 2014 womenkind has come a long way - we have equal education, have won the right to vote, the pill, and haven't been burnt as witches since 1727. So why are we even talking about the issue of proportionate gender representation at all?

Because despite how far we've come, we're not at the end of the journey yet, and IT is one industry where there still exists a significant gender imbalance. According to research from Nominet, women currently make up less than one fifth of the IT workforce. Most worryingly, based on current trends the gender gap is set to widen over the coming years.

Now, this fact isn't a revelation – indeed the headlines have been filled in recent years with similar statistics. But since this article allows me the kind of monologue that one might deliver, in a slightly slurred yet impassioned way, to a minicab driver who is doing the best to ignore you and turn up 'Alone' by Heart on Magic FM, it's the perfect opportunity to explore why we still have a long way to go in making technology a truly gender-inclusive sector.

As an XX chromosome touting journalist who regularly attends trade events, roundtables, conferences and meetings, I can categorically state that both the enterprise and consumer technology industries are demographically stratified. Despite major leaps in recent years behind the scenes, the industry does still little to help itself in the public eye: booth babes at trade events, a "brogrammer" developer culture and the skewed ratio of male / female speakers on prestige panels are some of the most obvious examples, but actually the problem is more insidious than the public sees.

Whilst IT really is one of the sectors where the glass ceiling for women has been truly shattered, on the ground level there still exist a lot of subtle prejudices. It's a real cause to celebrate that ITProPortal's Paul Cooper can put together a shortlist of just some of the women currently leading top companies like HP and HTC at C-level positions – his task would have been a lot harder, for instance, finding women who've climbed to the top of the finance sector – but what about the lower rungs?

From the gadgets that action heroes whip out to save the day to the geeky male stereotypes in cartoons that we watch as children, both genders are conditioned to see technology as "other" to women. A tecchie woman in popular culture is the odd one out. Something where it shouldn't be. The unexpected item in the bagging area. While tech is considered a "cool" hobby for boys, the most technological that young girls' toys and female heroines get are deciding what shade of lipstick would match their iPad cover – I'm looking at you CBBC's Sadie J.

It's a well-known fact that IT as it has been taught in schools for years has been uninspiring and irrelevant for both genders. This has meant that many who do forge careers in technology are led into doing so through the hobbies they explored in their spare time as teenagers and young adults: coding, video games, building robot kits and tinkering with PCs to name a few.

It's unfortunate then, that in general it is boys - not girls - who are traditionally associated with those pastimes. It's fantastic that young men are driven outside of the classroom to build the skills required to innovate groundbreaking new ideas in technology, but how can young girls do the same if they don't receive the same amount of cultural encouragement?

The result is that many young girls who are interested in technology find themselves ill-equipped with the skills to succeed in the sector, and either end up in less technical roles or in a different career altogether. This strikes me as a waste, kind of like hiring Patrick Stewart to read the notes of last week's PTA meeting. How can systems like Google and Facebook be fully informed about the world's tech trends when there's limited input from 52 per cent of the global population?

Still, it can be easy to generalise, so what have I experienced personally? I write daily about enterprise IT and whilst I'm by no means the only pair of high heels clacking through a room full of brogues, one cannot deny the occasional temptation to use those heels as a bludgeoning implement.

Heading the list of incidents where I've been made to notice my gender include: being invited back to another journalist's hotel room for the night within ten minutes of polite conversation; being the only woman in a roundtable discussion of 32 male journalists and industry specialists; being constantly mistaken for a PR representative; being berated in front of other journalists for misselling myself as a PR because I wore "their kind of pencil skirt"; being once told I should interview every female guest at a publication since I was "also a woman"; being invited to a party by a male company representative I have never met and told by him not to inform my male colleagues because "they're not as pretty" and hearing a top tech CEO say that one of the biggest challenges his employees face is "talking to women."

Most insultingly, however, was listening to another journalist tell me he finds it hard to read tech writing if he knows it's been written by a woman. In his opinion, an article by a female journalist "is not as trustworthy" and "often shows a lack of knowledge."

I could spend hours suggesting why it might be that this particular journalist chose those particular epithets. Actually, I couldn't – it would take less than a minute and consist of shouting "POT! POT! POT!" until my kettle black timer went off. Thankfully, however, this sort of encounter is rare and I can proudly say with alacrity that the majority of men I meet in IT – my colleagues included - are considerate, funny, intelligent, progressive men who make no distinctions between gender.

Really then, like the few idiots at the back of the cinema throwing popcorn at the back of your head as Frodo's about to drop the ring into Mount Doom, it all boils down to the crying shame that there are always a few people willing to spoil a perfectly good thing for everyone else.

So what to do? It's a small step, but what I am going to urge you to do is go out and tell someone the following: "today is international Women in ICT day."

Really for preference, I would like you to stand on a chair and shout "today is International Women in ICT day" – but this is simply because I believe everything is more exciting if you stand on a chair to do it.