I’ve been fortunate to have motivated, talented and successful women in the tech industry as role models and mentors. Today, all but two of my IT professors are women, including the head of the IT department. All these women have shaped me into the person I am today and inspired me to pursue a career in the tech industry. Growing up surrounded by women in technology is not the case for most people who choose this path, especially women, even though it should be. There are some specific points that are holding women back from the technology field and need to be addressed in a systematic way.
Reboot the “Techy” Stereotype
Being such a lucrative and growing industry, tech is constantly under the microscope of media. The industry needs to (wo)man-up and defend ourselves. The media’s stereotypes of tech are harmful to women and men. In the same way communities have stepped up to combat media’s unrealistic depictions of body types and gender roles, together the men and women of tech need to work to end the stereotyping. Not every tech professional is a geeky, elitist male with social anxiety. We are a field of innovators, game changers, and leaders and those titles don’t hold a gender or race to them. Breaking this idea of the tech industry makes it friendlier to everyone, especially women who are easily discouraged by the idea of tech being a boy’s club.
Revise Education: Keep young students interested
We need to revise the way elementary and middle school students view the tech field. Recently there have been initiatives to push curriculum about coding and computer science into elementary school. We see the President calling for actions to teach coding at a younger age. Organizations like GirlsWhoCode.com are working to close the gender gap in the field by teaching girls computer science skills. This alone is not enough. We need to start integrating a comprehensive tech curriculum from elementary to secondary school. School-aged females should feel as comfortable and welcome declaring their favorite subject is Computer Science as they would if they said it was English. Research says that of the 74% of middle-school girls who express interest in STEM, only 0.4% of girls select computer science majors in college. A solution is needed.
The earlier we introduce computer science in school, the larger the population of interested students. The larger the population is, the more diversity there is and young women can feel more comfortable about following their interests and ambitions in tech. In addition to opening doors for girls, revamping our schools curriculums will begin to normalize the field, helping eliminate those stereotypes and make American students more competitive.
Promote the Opportunity for Women in Tech
The opportunity in tech is exponential. The Department of Labor projected over 1.4 million computer specialist job openings by 2020. This trend will only continue as well. Some might argue that this is trivial, since that the status-quo applicants will easily fill those positions. In contrast, qualified US graduates are expected to fill only 29% of those positions. This leaves a large gap of opportunity for those who do not match the status-quo to step in and fill the gap. With a unified effort to introduce computer science to young girls sooner and eliminating the harsh stereotype environments that discourage them, we start to help fill this gap. Not to mention that job security and growth that the tech industry offers compared to others today. A prime example of this is in government contracting. The tech industry has great possibilities in government contracting and the US has taken measures to secure more contracts for specifically women owned small businesses.
Promote the Opportunity for Companies who Hire Women
Furthermore, the gain we will receive from having more women in technology won’t just be for diversities sake either. There have been large amounts of research to support that more women in the workplace offer creativity and innovation among teams and companies. In addition, we see that when there is a fair balance of gender in a workplace compared to say an all-male environment, the balanced one outperforms the unbalanced workplace significantly. So companies, board members, and CEOs that are smart should be racing to employ more women in their workplace. Even more so, they should as well be a part of the effort to not only make tech fields more appealing to women. As well as helping promote schools that graduate better-qualified employees and creating workplaces that make their employees more comfortable and productive.
Women must be the role models for other women
Lastly, none of the above are necessarily new ideas. These ideas have been discussed before but won’t be solutions until we start having more role model women, who are already in tech, stand-up. The key to making positive changes for women in tech isn’t to create a "men vs. women" environment or cry out "injustice!" and wait for the change. We need the women already in tech to mentor young girls and guide them past the misconceptions and hurdles that the field currently presents. Women must be the mentors for the next generation of computer scientists. Despite present efforts being continued by multiple women in tech already, the voice isn’t loud enough yet. That’s the problem, though, we can write, talk and tweet about how much there is a problem of diversity in tech all day. There will be no real change though until more women go on media and show they aren’t a stereotype. Until more women are computer science teachers that girls in elementary school to University can look up too. Until companies start applying the benefits that more workplace diversity offers. Until my experience with women in computer science and tech isn’t an unlikely one anymore.