It’s Time to Rally Support for Women in Technology

Women in Technology

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.

IMPROVE EDUCATION

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.


The Book Foundation

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A Bright Future For Women in Tech

Women in Tech

Great changes are happening inside the tech industry, as more and more women enter a playing field that’s been under a lot of scrutiny these past years for its male-centric workforce. No longer just a man’s sport, women are stepping up to the plate and realizing that, not only do they belong in the tech game, they can be the heavy hitters.

No great movement happens in a vacuum and it’s just as true for women in tech as everywhere else. While celebrating the advances by today’s leaders and trailblazers, it’s worth looking back at the women in tech who brought us to this point.

Most historical accounts start with Ada Lovelace, credited as the world’s first computer programmer. There is even a day named for her and every October 12th, techies around the world celebrate the role women have played in tech. Ada may be the best known, but she is not by a longshot the only woman who devoted her smarts and career to early technological gains.

Jean Jennings Bartik broke into the then new field of computer science when she got a job working on the ENIAC for the U.S. Ballistics Research Lab in the 1940s. A brilliant mathematician, she had been working on rocket and cannon trajectories calculations when a job was offered on the new machine. The concept there could be a device that might make hand calculations obsolete was all she needed to know and she quickly applied for the position. She and five other female mathematicians went on to create programs for the world’s first general-purpose computer.

Admiral Grace Murray Hopper, who died in 1992, was known by many for her television appearances, including on the David Letterman Show. The women who had worked on the ENIAC joined up with Grace, a tenured math professor who was also a member of the Navy Reserve during the war. They all worked together on the UNIVAC, one of the first major commercial computers, developing the programming language COBOL, which allowed programmers to use words instead of numbers. The innovation was a huge breakthrough because it marked the point where the software became more important than the hardware, as the software could now travel from one machine to a different machine.

Shortly after this time, the number of women majoring in computer science began to dramatically decline, a fact commonly attributed to the sense the job was not seen as important, particularly to men. When Steve Jobs and Bill Gates came on the scene with their PC’s, computer science degrees suddenly rose in popularity and the common wisdom became that boys who liked monkeying around with hardware were better suited to the field than girls who liked math. Even though their numbers shrank, women in tech still made important strides during the “lean years” leading up to today.

In 1994, Starr Roxanne Hiltz, along with her husband, Murray Turoff, wrote the influential book The Network Nation, which is credited with defining the electronic frontier of online conferencing systems.  At a time when she was primarily known for her work in the areas of operating systems and cache performance analysis, Anita Borg in 1995 founded Systers, an electronic mailing list for women working in computer science. Prior to the list’s creation the relatively few women in the tech industry at that time were physically isolated from each other and Systers became a major unifier and a supportive source of information. Borg’s list continues to be a major force when it comes to increasing the number of women in computer science.

The first decade of the 21st century brought us Stephanie Perrin, an international expert in privacy and data protection, as well as the social impact of technology; Beth Givens, who founded the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse and has written books on how individuals can protect their online privacy; Mitchell Baker, the Chairperson of the Mozilla Foundation, which promotes innovation and opportunity through its open-source project; and Limor “Ladyada” Fried, a pioneer in the field of open-source software as well as hardware hacking. Her company, Adafruit, sells do-it-yourself kits to consumers to helps them make tech-related gadgets.

This decade’s inspiring team includes women like Selina Tobaccowala of Survey Monkey, Julia Hartz of Eventbrite and Michelle Zatlyn of CloudFare. These women have all built their successes in no small part upon their predecessors’ earlier achievements and, while the current numbers may make prospects appear dim, there is actually much to be optimistic about when it comes to the future of women in tech. As more and more women enter the field (and receive recognition for their work), and as girls and young women begin to see how exciting and rewarding a life it can be, there’s no reason not to believe that the best, indeed, is yet to come.

MelroseMAC Mac

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