A shortage of women in technology? Not in Russia.
(This post originally appeared on The Washington Post)
If you’re part of the technology industry in the United States,. then you’ll no doubt agree it’s a man’s world.
TechCrunch reported last year on the “pipeline problem” created because a mere 18 percent of undergraduate computer science degrees and 26 percent of computing jobs are currently held by women. In the corporate world, only five percent of leadership positions in the technology industry are held by women. Alarmingly, the share of women in the U.S. computing workforce is projected to decline from 24 percent to 22 percent by 2025, according to research done by Girls Who Code. Attracting and then keeping more women in technology is a big challenge for businesses – big and small – both here and in most of Europe.
A report from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization recently found that, in Russia, 41 percent of people in scientific research are women. The number of women inventors in Russia number more than three times that of other western countries. Why Russia?
“Most of the girls we talked to from other countries had a slightly playful approach to STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering, Math], whereas in Russia, even the very youngest were extremely focused on the fact that their future employment opportunities were more likely to be rooted in STEM subjects,” a researcher explained in this BBC report.
For Russian girls, technology training starts at an early age. Parental encouragement is strong. Female technology role models are plentiful. There are more female teachers than males in the country and they preside over a more general and neutral curriculum. It’s cultural and it goes back to the Soviet era, where science was proclaimed a national priority and technical education was open to everyone, regardless of gender. As a result, young Russian girls view STEM more positively and this has resulted in a more lasting interest.
Then there’s just personality. Some argue that Russian women are just…well…tougher. Whatever the reason, try not to be surprised if you find yourself interviewing more female scientists, engineers or programmers who come from Russia.
“Compared to the rest of Europe, we just don’t stress about ‘women’s issues,’ ” the head of an organization that connects Russian talent with job opportunities in the UK told the BBC. Yes, she’s a woman.