Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer at Facebook, Yahoo!’s Marissa Mayer, and IBM’s president and chief executive Virginia Rometty prove that while the representation of women in tech is disproportionate, it certainly still has a presence and success rate to boast of. The significance of three women at top tech companies may somewhat discredit the belief that a lack of women role models is the main reason for the female talent shortage, but that the gap exists and is in fact growing, can’t be ignored.
One of the most popular explanations behind why there aren’t enough women working in tech is that there aren’t enough women trained to work in tech. Not only significant for the negative impact that this lack of diversity can have on STEM workplaces, the dropping number of women studying computer science also limits opportunities for women and hurts the economy as a whole. Though groups such as Girls Who Code and Women Who Code, and programs such as the national Tech Hire Initiative have all made strides to encourage increased female tech education and provide learning opportunities, the success of the movement ultimately depends on your help.
Whether you are a decision maker at a tech company, or you’re an individual working in the tech sector or elsewhere, you can make a big difference. By learning more about the long-term benefits to your investment in female tech education, and the three simple yet significant ways that you can motivate change, you’ll not only help the tech industry and national economy to thrive, but can change the future for yourself and the women and girls in your life.
As a Business
The Value of Stepping In:
Women Can End the Tech Talent Shortage
In the ever-growing tech industry, opportunities are plentiful – and in fact, overabundant. The tech talent shortage threatens that there are not enough skilled IT workers to fill current tech needs. Ultimately, this leads to lost productivity and high turnover due to overworked staff and a highly-competitive tech market, and some fear there isn’t a solution in sight.
Girls Who Code founder Reshma Saujani disagrees, citing that as 71% of all STEM jobs are in computer science, the obvious solution is to encourage more women to pursue computer science degrees. According to Reshma, at the current rate of women pursuing tech jobs, only 3% of the world’s 1.4 million IT jobs will be filled by females. In Minnesota alone, 164,500 people work in tech occupations, and last year saw a 4% increase in tech opportunities overall for the state. Women will likely be the key to filling these additional needs.
Luckily, the Twin Cities are among the best in America for women in tech, with the percent of women holding jobs in tech in St. Paul and Minneapolis equaling 26.5% and 25.2% respectively, and an average annual growth rate of 18%. Still, that percentage has room to grow when you consider that woman make up around 50% of the population, but hold only about a quarter of the available tech jobs.
Though increasing STEM educational for women won’t yield immediate results to help fill your company’s female tech talent needs, by supporting educational programs or working to develop or strengthen your own, you’ll be among the first to reap the benefits of a diversified tech team.
What You Can Do:
1. Educate to Employ: Build Your Own Pipeline
Etsy has been one of the most successful companies to increase its number of women in tech. In just one year the company’s number of female engineers grew 500% – from only 3 engineers, to 20. They’ve accomplished this through sponsorship of a summer Hacker School, which has allowed them to build their own pipeline by gaining access to a pool of qualified, up-and-coming women technologist. These programs are a win-win, as they allow you to support the female tech education movement while simultaneously helping you bridge the tech gender gap in your workplace by training your own future employees.
2. Ditch “Trial and Error”: Develop Targeted Trainings
Gender learning differences are a major deterrent for some girls who would otherwise enjoy studying computer science. Many girls feel frustrated by and uninterested in their high school and college programs, which teach computer science using “trial and error” methods that aren’t as effective for women’s learning styles. Whether you’re looking to build your pipeline by creating a summer school for girls, or are interested in opportunities to train your current female employees more advanced tech skills, ensure that your teachings are structured, and help women feel safe by encouraging them to ask questions rather than “figuring it out” without guidance. By helping them to build a foundational knowledge and gain some confidence with coding, you will encourage them to continue their learning and eventually become more comfortable with the “trial and error” nature of tech programming.
3. Assemble The All-Stars: Team-Up with Local Initiatives
Get involved with initiatives such as the Minnesota High Tech Association’s Tech Experience tours, or consider partnering with the National Center for Women and Information Technology by sponsoring their Aspirations in Computing Award Program, which honors high-school women for their STEM achievements. Not only will your involvement and support help empower women to learn programming, but as with “building your own pipeline” this initiative could directly benefit you by increasing the pool of qualified female tech candidates interested in working with you in the future.
As an Individual
The Value of Stepping in:
Eliminating The Skills Gap Creates Equal Opportunities
Why should bridging the stem-education gap take precedent over other gender inequality issues? In one TED talk speech, Reshma Saujani cited a study that found bright girls were more likely to give up when challenged, while bright boys were more likely to double their efforts. In her own time at Girls Who Code, she said she’d witnessed similar attitudes by girls who were uncomfortable with their imperfect work. Overcoming these perfectionist ideals could help women to become more confident and more employable, giving them the opportunity to reap the financial perks of the tech industry, including high compensation and competitive health benefits.
Additionally, by transforming the tech industry from a male-dominated field to a more gender-balanced field, women could help end stereotypes that they are “less-qualified” to work in tech. One Digital Trends article reported studies from Harvard Business School, Wharton, MIT Sloan, and Yale, which all uncovered accounts of gender bias for tech workers. Increasing the number of women would lead to a better understanding of the value of women techies in the workplace, which in turn could lead to a larger societal awareness about gender equality and promising future prospects for your daughters, friends, and loved ones.
What You Can Do:
1. Combat “Perfection or Bust”: Adjust The Messages You Send
During her time at Girls Who Code, Reshma Saujani said she’s witnessed an attitude of “perfection or bust” among high school girls, who would rather “show nothing at all” instead of showing failed attempts to write code. In many ways, encouraging girls to learn coding has more to do with teaching them to be confident and take risks than it has to do with trying to interest them in “tech” as a subject matter. If you are a parent, teacher, or friend, encourage the young girls and women you know to follow Reshma Saujani’s advice and “be comfortable with imperfection”. By teaching girls that perfection isn’t everything, you instill in them the confidence to take more risks and ultimately pursue STEM careers.
2. Encourage ‘Play to Win’: Explain That STEM Opens Doors
Computer science opens doors to a variety of career opportunities in the same way that a foundational knowledge of other core subjects does. You wouldn’t let high school girls choose whether or not they wanted to study English, math, science, or history, and neither should we be viewing computer science as optional. While some schools, such as the Chicago School District, have made computer science courses mandatory as part of a local and national Computer Science for All initiative, many others have yet to follow suit. That’s why it is especially important for individuals to promote and support early female tech education. Remind girls that tech skills are required for a surprising variety of positions – from writing and literary opportunities to more-traditional business roles. Learning computer science isn’t only for girls who want to work in the tech industry: it’s for anyone who wants to stay competitive in the job market.
3. Follow The Leaders: Connect With Female Tech Role Models
There are a plethora of programs and female leaders who can motivate, inspire, and educate young girls in technology. While it’s encouraging to know of the existence of these successful women in tech, physically connecting young girls to female role models is even more important. That’s why UK company “Everywoman” launched its “Modern Muse” app, which connects women to others in their field and provides tips and inside information regarding opportunities. You can help women to get involved and access resources by launching your own networking groups on LinkedIn, or even creating your own app to connect women. Just by being tuned-in to the opportunities for female tech education, such as Hackbright Academy or the Girls Who Code Summer Immersion Program, you can become part of the movement to empower girls to learn tech and gain IT career opportunities.
Girls Who Code’s COO Solomon Steplight recently shared his personal mission, and motivation for teaming up with the company. “I wanted, at the very least, to create thousands of potential mentors for my daughter,” he said. No matter what your motivation for supporting increased female tech education – be it helping your business to succeed by increasing the amount of qualified female techies who could work with your company, ensuring a daughter or niece isn’t limited in her future opportunities, or even advancing your own career – your efforts make a difference. We could all benefit from a future with more women in tech, but in order to achieve that, we need to encourage girls to learn computer science today. No matter what your involvement in or knowledge of the tech industry, by implementing these simple strategies, you can become a key part of the movement toward a thriving future.
For more about Women in Tech and bridging the gender gap, read our first blog in this series:
Know a female techie who’s looking for a great new opportunity? Contact Us today or Send Us Your Referrals