The percentage of women working in technology is worrying. In an article published today at thestreet.com, Meg Garner cites some statistics about women in tech companies – specifically within Silicon Valley. It’s a great article and highlights some of the more prominent successes of women in technology – particularly at the executive level. According to Garner, women make up an average of only 30% of the staff at tech companies – and those are the companies making concerted efforts to recruit and retain women as part of their workforce.
My experience, in the education sector, reflects even lower numbers of women in technology fields: in two separate IT departments, I’ve seen a total of 2 women on the technical staff compared to 22 men between the two departments. In the same period of time, I have been part of resume review and interviewing. In three years, I’ve had one female applicant for a technician job. Not just one that was qualified and made it to interview, but one total applicant.
The problem is not that women enter the IT workforce and decide they don’t like it: I believe it’s much more systemic and happens at a much earlier age. When I was attending college a few years ago as a computer science major, I found that there were very few women in my programming and IT classes. I don’t believe that most classes even met the 30% figure that is reported by top technology firms.
I think it’s important to point out now that this is not a question of ability. The percentage of women in high-level math and physics classes that I attended were much higher. Many of these women were preparing for careers in engineering and science fields. For whatever reason, computer science, software engineering, information technology, and other similar degrees were not as sought after by women.
The lack of women seeking degrees in technology fields is certainly one factor in the shortage of women within those fields. I’m doing everything I can to help promote a workplace that anyone would feel comfortable in – men or women. Ensuring that the workplace is safe for all without fear of harassment, exclusion, or contempt is an important factor in helping women to enter the technology workforce. But how do we encourage girls to become interested in technology in the first place?
As a father with two daughters, this is an area of special interest to me. I have no desire to push them in any one direction professionally, but I do want them to feel comfortable, do something that will they enjoy, and that each can use to support themselves financially. My oldest daughter (age 10) spends several hours each day learning to program. My son piqued her interest in it, and they work together on several different projects.
A few weeks ago, I asked her if she had ever considered a career in IT or networking. I quickly realized that, despite her interest in computers, she still didn’t know what a network was. After a brief explanation of networks and the internet, she seemed more interested and told me she didn’t had not even considered that there was a job field for that: that’s a great way to humble an IT dad. She seems excited and continues to ask questions about how and why the internet works. My fear now is not that she will lose interest, but that she will somehow gain the impression that this work is better suited for men.
The way to get girls into tech is not to use the word tech. Same goes for boys. I’ve never met a girl or a boy who said: “I want to be an engineer when I grow up. I want to code all day long.”Girls and Boys want to be superheroes and rock stars. They want to make impossible things happen. They want to be rich and famous. They want to change the world. In the business world we call this type of focus “Business Outcomes”. We can have a conversation about outcomes with children, too. Focus on the goal, and the skills necessary to reach that goal. A little girl who wants to change the world by bringing education to every remote village on Earth can do so by being CIO/CTO/CMO/CEO of a technology company. Look for dreamers, because dreamers make things happen. Don’t label girls or boys.
If we want this next generation to take an interest in technology, we have to start now. We have to show them why technology is important and how they, the individual, can impact the industry.