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Why diversity and robotics may ultimately be incompatible in the tech world

Why is the tech industry, and robotics in particular, struggling when it comes to diversity?

percentSaturday 26 August was Women’s Equality Day and saw the release of a number of reports showing that there is still much work to be done to ensure that gender is not a barrier to achievement and that there are still many unhelpful stereotypes that get in the way of progress.

Although the focus was mainly on gender, the truth is that there is still a way to go in terms of embracing and encouraging diversity in general.

When it comes to the workplace, diversity is a value that is often championed; however, in reality, there are still many industries and jobs that are predominantly carried out by one gender. There are a number of viewpoints as to why this is, with some very controversial.

Gender imbalance is particularly evident in the tech industry. Despite the recent rise of the eastern IT worker, IT is still dominated by white middle-class males.

Women hold just 28% of undergraduate computer science degrees, one-quarter of computing jobs, and just over 10% of executive positions in Silicon Valley companies.

Why is the tech industry, and robotics in particular, struggling when it comes to diversity?

Perhaps the answer lies in the stereotypical image of the IT worker. Rarely is a female used as the face of an IT company or recruitment campaign. The male IT nerd is the image proliferated in the media and on our screens.

Perhaps it is to do with education. Just 9.8% of those completing an A-level in computing were female. The phasing out of the old ICT GCSE in favour of a more ‘computer science’ approach caused a mixed reaction and it is yet to be seen whether this ultimately increases or decreases the number of girls taking this path.

It is also thought that girls are more likely to avoid computer science, as they have a more negative view of the consequences of being a ‘computer geek’ than boys. This means the pool of talent is extremely male dominated and this filters upward into the workforce.

Many people will be aware of the infamous and controversial Google manifesto email that became public – and resulted in the writer losing their job – whereby one employee wrote about the competency levels of women in the field of technology.

He referred to female ‘biological differences’ and ‘neuroticism’. This is the type of view that will only prevent the gap from closing, especially if it is given credence by those in power.

Not only is it preventing opportunity but also a lack of diversity could also be costing organisations in terms of profit and productivity. A recent study suggested that the most gender-diverse companies were 15% more likely to outperform those that were the least diverse.

From a common-sense point of view, there are no genuine reasons why the technology and robotics industries cannot be more diverse. It seems that image, tradition and education are equally at fault, but these biases can be overturned; however, the process may be slow.

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