Women in Tech Today
Inspiring Girls to Step Into STEM Tomorrow
Women on the I Am Tech site share their unique stories about what they love about working in technology, in addition to the challenges they face, and offer advice to girls and women who want to join their ranks.
Many of the women CEOs who have made the Fortune “Most Powerful Women” list for 2015 began their careers as engineers and mathematicians: IBM’s Ginni Rometty; GM’s Mary Barra, DuPont’s Ellen Kullman, HP’s Meg Whitman, and Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer illustrate how formidable STEM is as a career path for women: it is an opportunity to make a difference in the world. And the world needs women to help develop needed technologies and solutions.
With the need for STEM jobs expected to grow by 17 percent through 2018, the U.S. will have more than 1.2 million unfilled STEM positions, and women must be part of the cadre to fill them. Men simply cannot do it alone. Beyond the availability of interesting positions, there is the reality of earning a more equitable salary, right now. Overall, the wage gap between women and men is much smaller in STEM than other occupations, and I predict that this will move to parity in the very near future.
Despite the great strides that have been made, and the opportunities, there is still room for improvement: “There are particular assumptions that are made about women in tech,” said Katie Morrison. “Often I get introduced as an “Executive Assistant.” I am the Head of Operations at Mixpanel.” Mixpanel is an advanced analytics platform for mobile and web.
We need to identify and correct the kind of inequities that beset the critical talent pool women represent—including those already in the field and those to follow.
Uncovering and eliminating gender barriers. “I have made supporting diversity, women and STEM a core focus in my career, as we look to provide women and girls with much needed inspiration to pursue STEM jobs,” said Edie Fraser, CEO of STEMconnector and Million Women Mentors (MWM) in a 2015 interview “Although we see many women pursuing STEM majors early in college, they are often put off by challenges faced, including a shortage of female mentors in STEM fields and gender differences in the workplace.” Sometimes as a result of these challenges, highly qualified women are discouraged by their prospects for advancement or leave the field altogether. It is time for a turnaround in the culture to reverse this “brain drain.”
The 2014 report Athena Factor 2.0: Accelerating Female Talent in Science, Engineering & Technology has researched and documented some of the gender differences that may not be about overt bias, but are nuanced factors that affect the lack of balance in the workplace:
- Hostile, macho cultures: Women are marginalized by lab-coat, hard-hat, and geek workplace cultures that are often exclusionary and promulgate bias.
- Scarcity of effective sponsors/mentors: Although women have sponsors, they don’t reap the benefits to the degree that their male colleagues do.
- Isolation: Women no longer find themselves the sole female on a team or at a site, yet they still feel excluded from “buddy networks” among their peers, and lack female role models.
- Difficulty with executive presence: Women struggle to decipher and embody leadership attributes, and receive little useful feedback to correct this perception.
Changing minds changes culture. One of the ways we can make strides in workplace equity is to change the picture in our minds of who a STEM professional is. “I think the progress has been slow, but cultural change is difficult, and that’s what we’re talking about,” said Janet Bandows Koster, CEO of the Association for Women in Science (AWIS) in an interview with Fortune magazine. In 2011, the AWIS led a grassroots initiative to have more women appear in Google image searches for the word “scientist.” “Up until then, all you saw were men, and if there was [a photo of] a woman, she was standing behind a man, who was mentoring her … There are women who have currently achieved incredible recognition in their fields and we don’t talk about them. Those are the images we need to be putting out there.”
Driving diversity with data analytics. At Google and Twitter, female representation is just 30 percent while Hispanics make up 3 percent of the workforce and African-Americans represent 2 percent of the employee bases. One way to ensure greater equity is to take advantage of technology and its inherent impartiality, which can make workplaces more inclusive. As more organizations view diversity as a competitive edge rather than a compliance requirement, companies are using data analytics to provide meaningful insights on who’s getting promoted, what training programs are producing the strongest leaders, and how certain policies are luring women, minorities, and foreign workers.
“Baking in” company diversity from the start. Recognizing that diversity is more difficult to retrofit than to build in is making a difference at the way startups are approaching gender and racial diversity. The spate of news stories around the lack of diversity in Silicon Valley has prompted startups to think about taking advantage of the brainpower of women and minorities from the outset. Isaac Schlueter, CEO of npm, decided to “bake in” inclusion so everyone in his company would not look or think like him: young, male, computer science graduate and explained why in an interview with the International Business Times. “That’s boring. It’s not a good way to solve problems,” said Schleuter. “You end up having the same thoughts over and over again, and it makes you really vulnerable.”
At the Women’s Leadership Summit on workplace equality in September, 2015, YouTube’s CEO Susan Wojcicki was asked about the low numbers of women in technology jobs and what the remedy might be. She said, "Leaders and managers have to say ‘we believe in diversity,’ then go to the recruiters and say ‘we need to do better.’"
Starting early—using EdTech. Wojcicki also noted at the same event, “Computer science needs to become a requirement in schools to make it available to everyone.” I do agree that exposing all students to computer science and coding, and supporting STEM interests more generally, needs to begin early and be sustained throughout the college years by learning guardians.
As learning guardians, we need to do everything we can to correct the imbalance in the technology workforce today, and prevent it from happening tomorrow. Let’s encourage girls early—as early as the second grade—to step into STEM. It is good for them, their careers, and for our collective future.