The subject of women in technology, or more precisely, the dearth of women in technology, is everywhere in the news these days. At a certain point, one can become numb to the statistics bandied about – the small percentage of the tech work force made up by women; the dramatic drop in college women who are majoring in computer sciences; and the lack of recognition for women’s contributions to the field. It’s as if an entire gender is walking about with a big dark cloud over its head.
All is not gloom and doom though. There’s a whiff of hope in the air lately, as it appears the industry is beginning to rally around the idea that more women are needed in the tech world, and they need to be encouraged from a very young age to envision a place for themselves in that world. It isn’t just about gender equality, either.
Two of the most important facts that support a push for more women in technology are that women make up a larger section of the tech user base than men, and that gender diversity in teams leads to more successful firms. While it’s still an uphill battle, a number of trailblazers are coming forth to lead the charge. Here’s a look at some of the areas of action they feel are top priority.
MAKE THE CASE FOR WOMEN IN TECH
When more women are hired in design, management and leadership positions, a healthier workplace results. Corporations need to be educated on how to shift their male-dominated cultures, as it’s well-established that a diverse workplace not only achieves better results, but more accurately reflects a company’s customer/client base. A good example of this is the City of Sacramento partnering with Microsoft to encourage girls to get into the technology fields.
One of the biggest challenges remains in getting young girls to see technology careers being worth pursuing. That’s tough, when most of the attention and focus tends to be on the men in the industry. The media does cover women in tech who head up big companies, but it rarely gives space to women who are starting up their own tech companies, writing code and creating software.
Pink-collar occupations, such as teaching and nursing, are not to be dismissed, but girls need to be encouraged to pursue the higher incomes that engineering and computer science can offer. Organizations like CodeEd, a Boston-based non-profit that teaches various aspects of computing to girls, are leading the charge. Another innovator is Code First: Girls, a London initiative that offers free coding courses to female graduates. If it’s change we’re looking for, it’s imperative to raise girls’ awareness of the opportunities that exist for them and to reverse the negative perception they have of the tech field.
CHAMPION ROLE MODELS
The technology field is certainly not lacking in role models – it’s just that those role models have traditionally been left out of the public narrative. That is changing and as more positive narratives are presented to both girls and, importantly, their parents, we will hopefully see a shift in attitudes and career choices made by young women as they enter college or university.
Nora Poggi’s documentary, She Started It, tells the stories of female tech entrepreneurs and offers young women a look at what a career in technology can mean for them. Poggi hopes the film empowers young girls by exposing them to inspirational women in technology who look just like them.
FUND WOMEN’S START-UPS
In 1981, the first multi-million dollar Silicon Valley startup went public. The company, ASK Computers, was unable to raise funding from venture capitalists, so the founder self-invested. That founder was a woman, Sandra Kurtzig, who started out as a home-based, part-time software programmer and a few years later launched her technology company’s IPO. Not much has changed in the 30-plus years since, as women continue to find it nearly impossible to attract financial backing. Female entrepreneurs need to be encouraged into startups, and that encouragement needs to come in the form of the same money that is invested in men.
A step in the right direction are events like Lady’s Pitch Night, a partnership between Girls in Tech, Go Daddy and YouNoodle that hopes to level the playing field. The San Francisco gathering brings together innovative female business leaders, engineers, designers and investors to explore the best in technology, innovation and entrepreneurship.
While all of these steps forwards are promising, they are still not enough. If we want to see more young girls and women embrace technology as a career path, we’ll need to stay focused on some core principles, including becoming more accepting of women in the tech workplace. The best way to do this is through encouragement, opportunity, and continued support.