What does the programmer look like? Young children from class 1/2c at Boehmer Elementary School have their own ideas about this. And this is a good thing, because the teacher Jan Cronin allows them to put it on paper in preparation for a guest lecture by a “real programmer”. Cutouts and rake dolls appear on A4 sheets with steady pencil strokes. Some get a helmet, a chainsaw, or a razor. Florentines (5 years old) has a pink dress. “My programmer will be a girl,” she explains, drawing long strands of hair.
Fortunately for Wesseling, parallels between Florinde’s artwork and programmer Nynke Wesseling are hard to find when he enters the classroom a few minutes later. She doesn’t wear a pink dress, she doesn’t have pink hair, and her eyes aren’t pink hearts either. But unlike many of her classmates, the little girl guessed one adjective correctly: Wesling is a woman. And she’s here to inspire the 1/2C girls to take on a tech career like her in the future.
This is much needed, according to the Experience Center for Gender Diversity in Science Technology (VHTO) which offers guest lectures. Only 14 per cent of technical professions are still held by a woman, while the call for technical personnel is higher due to the energy transition and further digitization. At the end of last year, the UWV calculated that there were about 80,000 hands short of jobs directly needed to implement climate policy.
“Tech employers no longer know what to do with their vacancies, which is bad for the Dutch BV,” says VHTO Director Sahar Yadegari. “But also for women themselves. Technology is becoming more and more important in our lives and more and more influential. If there were only white men on the drawing board, apps would be designed with men as the standard and we were missing out on a lot of innovation.
How painful that can be, researchers at the University of Virginia saw in 2019. An analysis of more than 23,000 car accidents showed that women were 73% more likely than men to suffer serious injuries, even if they were wearing seat belts. The result of the crash tests was: they were performed exclusively with dolls the weight and height of a man.
According to research by PricewaterhouseCoopers, there is another reason why more women are choosing technology: wages are higher than in traditional “female occupations” such as care and primary education. Of course, jobs will be created in these sectors, chief economist Jan Willem Felthuisen agrees. But we believe that government-regulated healthcare wages will not recover with market scarcity like those in the energy transition. It can widen the gap between men and women in the labor market.
It’s up to programmer Wesseling to show the Boeiimeer kids with her miniature robotic bots that the technology is just as good for girls as boys. They take it for granted that they don’t even know what programming is. “Look at it this way: I’m telling the machines what to do.”
According to VHTO, it’s important to start guest lessons as soon as possible to balance out the stereotypes that preschoolers see at home, in textbooks, and in the media. That is, the technician is a man. Or if there is a poster in Chapter 1/2C: Doctor.
But working on the flow of women only isn’t enough, according to Yadegari, because a scientist’s career is a lot like a “leaky pipeline,” where women don’t choose technology at every moment they choose.
While the class with accurate profiles in high school is now 43 percent girls, that percentage in science and technology courses is only 26 percent. Among graduates, only 21.9 percent continue to work in an artistic career.
“Employers who are crying out for employees like this should ask themselves how they can not hire and keep these women,” Yadgari says. She has her own thoughts on this: Women simply don’t feel at home in the tech world designed by and for men. A world where women have to prove themselves even harder, part-time work is almost possible, shoulders are only available in XL and work boots from size 42.
According to Yadegari, it is not only a result of women not being able to function well because the clothes are too loose. “It also sends a signal: This is the norm, so you just have to adapt.” The same is true of lost pumping rooms and women’s latrines. “There’s one more thing that scares me every time,” she continues. “Naked posters still hang on the walls in many workplaces.”
For toddlers with a temperature of 1/2°C, this world is still miles away. For now, it seems that teacher Cronin was particularly inspired by the Wesselink programmer’s lesson. “Let’s see if I can program you now,” he said excitedly. While the children rush to the hallway at his command to get their coats, Lot (5) remains in the room for some time. He whispered, “I’d like to be a programmer.” “And another ballerina.”