What happens when that Highschool senior you look up to is a Techno-geek June 11, 2012Posted by The Raise Project in Career, Women in Science.
Tags: Gender gap, high school, high school science, peer mentoring, STEM, tech, technology
It used to be that, quantitatively, the top reasons women cited for staying away from technology fields were:
*it’s not interesting;
*they think they wouldn’t be good at it;
*they think they will be working with a number of people that they just wouldn’t feel comfortable or happy working alongside.
But now that tech is so much more integrated into our daily lives, being technologically illiterate no longer flies. The article finds that the new reasons include:
*not being aware of the economic benefits and impact tech careers can have;
*female students not taking computer science classes, which might spark their interest;
*not having “mentors” who are only a few years older that are into tech. (Remember that Senior in highschool, when you were a freshman, and they were the epitome of cool and the pinnacle of human evolution, with their school savvy and CAR KEYS? Article suggests the more girls get into computers and technology, the more young devotees will follow, and the cycle will continue.)
Here’s the Real Reason There Are Not More Women in Technology
Ask someone to tell you the reasons that there are not more women in technology positions and chances are they will point to one of the numerous articles written lately. They usually start with “top 10 reasons why women…” or “break the glass ceiling by…”. But instead of doing the hard research, they produce the literary equivalent of ‘all flash and no substance’.
To understand the reasons and circumstances of the issue, we must go beyond the pretexts to an examination of the occupational conditions for women throughout their life. And I chose to discuss it with 10 successful women that have all made it to the top of their professions in technical related fields.
Such a view of women’s lives are of course limited by the size of the study, but these successful women each put forth sound, actionable advice for women of all ages. Critical advice during a time where technology has begun and increasingly will permeate every facet of every profession on earth. A career without a technology background is a fatal one.
“Technology is woven into everything. You can’t talk about anything these days without technology as one of the ingredients,” Cindy Bates, Vice President of Microsoft’s Small and Medium Sized Business told me while explaining the urgent need for women to pursue at least one technology path, “and we need to do a better job of exposing women to technology related jobs,” Bates later explained while highlighting how her involvement in DigiGirlz is helping to advance that vision.
So What’s Going on?
In the past, technology jobs were viewed by women as populated by men in basements, working alone, as an organ of the computer. Harvey Mudd’s President, Maria Klawe compiled her own research and offered a more substantive explanation, “We’ve done lots of research on why young women don’t choose tech careers and number one is they think it’s not interesting. Number two, they think they wouldn’t be good at it. Number three, they think they will be working with a number of people that they just wouldn’t feel comfortable or happy working alongside.”
But, in today’s world, those views are officially over. Technology careers are interesting, women are great at it, and they get to work alongside extraordinary men and women. Being technology illiterate just doesn’t cut it anymore. It can’t when so many more job functions require so much more technical know-how.
That’s my point. It’s not just that we have to encourage more women into technology related jobs; it’s that we need to show all women as Intel’s CIO Kim Stevenson put it to me, “the impact a technical background can have on a woman’s career, and the economic potential that accompanies it.” Stevenson, agreeing with Bates adds, “Often women don’t understand what options are available in tech fields – and that stops them.”
We can do better than a frustratingly low number (9 percent) of CIOs that are female. At a time when girls in general comprise about 46% of the advanced placement calculus test takers but that approximately 80% of them don’t end up taking a computer science class, clearly something is not working.
To make matters worse, the women who do pursue technical careers are met with some additional challenges. Martha Heller, President of a Recruiting firm and author of the CIO Paradox, concludes that women are also in a type of perception paradox, “I’m going to say 80% of the searches that we do whether they’re at the CIO level or at the VP or director level, will say to us, ‘If you could get us a woman that’d be really great.’ But the women I talk to are asking but not getting those opportunities internally. So somewhere there’s a serious disconnect – where on one hand you’ve got women saying we’re not being considered and on the other, companies saying we want women.”
Seems to be the workplace equivalent of Buridan’s Bridge, but the dilemma is solvable. We can both address the dilemma of employers and women by solving the real issue. So let’s see it from a new perspective.
The Real Reason we have Less Women in Tech…
The first time I questioned the conventional wisdom about the nature of women in technology was almost 20 years ago. I had assumed, rather clumsily, that women were not interested in technology because – well – there were not many women in technology. Yet, I saw how women excelled at technology related tasks. Why then were perfectly capable women, not in tech related positions?
It turns out there are multiple reasons, but it boils down to a quantity problem. We simply do not have enough women choosing tech careers.
According to research by Penn Schoen and Berland (PSB), nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of teens have never considered a career in engineering. In another research study by Girl Scouts of America, only 13% of female teens say a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) related career would be their first choice. Why? It turns Klawe was on to something. From the research results, PSB found that 74% of teens that considered engineering did so only after being explained the economic benefits and impact they can have on the world.
So if women are not even considering a career in technology due in part to a perception problem, what then can we do?
Let’s start by looking at a male versus female tech career funnel. From the data, you see the following:
Clearly we have a numbers problem, that as Kristine Snow is President of Cisco Systems Capital describes as, “a situation that does not optimize a diversity of ideas, innovation and ultimately a business’s bottom line.”
So what can we do about it? Here’s what our business leaders say.
How to Get More Women into Tech
From my research with the 10 female business leaders, it became apparent that there were some signs and strategies to help channel more women into tech related professions.
Our business leaders provided me with some of the early signs that young girls may be more inclined for a technical career. One hundred percent (100%) of our business leader group cited Math as an early indication of a technical career. Two thirds (2/3) cited Music, half (50%) mentioned an interest in analyzing things, and 44% believed that taking a computer science class sparked their interest in a technology career path. Each of the leaders was careful to add that while these indications certainly are relevant, it does not eliminate any young women from pursuing a technical career.
The business leaders also provided me with a list of strategic focuses for all of us to consider:
- 70% of the business leaders believed that educational about technical fields starts in childhood. Lydia Thomas, the retired CEO of Noblis and Co-Chair of the National Academy of Sciences emphasized this point by telling me, “we have to capture women at a very young age, After that it seems to be too late – because women are not getting the emphasis in school. We need to encourage parents to encourage their daughters.”
- 80% of the business leaders believe that we need to do more in high school and college to guide more women into technical careers. Cindy McKenzie, CIO of Fox Entertainment, is an advocate of exposing more women to Computer Science classes, telling me: “In my opinion, it was this class actually – that was my trigger for understanding what I really like – which is working with the business to solve business and technical challenges.”
- More than half (60%) of the leaders felt that we can do more in the workplace. “People are much more conscious about diversity,” Jenni Flinders, Microsoft’s Vice President of the U.S. Partner Group, explained to me, “but we still need to dispel some of the stereotypical myths about our field being male dominated.” In other words, promote a better vision of today’s technical paths within the organization to make technology positions more attractive.
- 60% of the leaders believed women need a good mentor. Dana DiFerdinando, CIO of Arena Pharmaceuticals credits her mentor at SAIC for part of her career’s success, “I think mentoring is critical and I actually had a great mentor at SAIC who had already achieved the highest level scientific position in SAIC. She was a physicist turned technologist and she really helped women.” For DiFerdinando, her mentor helped her navigate the internal networks, provided career opportunities, and gave her a deep understanding of what it takes to get to the next level.
Cora Carmody, the CIO of Jacobs Engineering, and who founded and runs Technology Goddesses, believes a critical factor in nurturing women into a technical career path involves pairing up school-aged girls with female mentors that are two years older than them. Because, as she explained it to me: “Girls are more likely to emulate older girls that are two grades ahead of them, not middle aged.”
Wrapping it all up
If you believe as I do that the lingua franca of the future is a fluency in technology, then there are many things we need to do to keep the top of the funnel full of people pursuing technical careers.
Because in a world where technology increasingly permeates everything we do, in nearly every profession – there is nothing more important than having both men and women pursue technology careers to ensure our competitiveness.
BUT we must strive to ensure that both sexes are rigorously pursuing technology careers. A point first drilled home by Bill Gates during a speech – in of all places, Saudi Arabia, “ Any country where half their population is not allowed to reach their full potential is not going to be competitive.”
In the final analysis, we all must be held accountable. If we fail to act, then we all suffer from the underutilization of talent.
That’s doesn’t sound like something any of us wants.