Inspiring more women to enter the tech field

A person standing in front of a computer - Information Age
Thanks to Capital One for hosting me recently at their offices to cover the Hispanic IT Executive Council D.C. IT Leadership Summit so that I could bring this content to my readers.

How do we get more women to enter the technology field and create the environment where they want to stay? This is a question that I continually ask myself. Recently I visited the Hispanic IT Executive Council Summit in DC hosted by Capital One and spoke to many successful women in the technology field to get to the bottom of this. What causes this lack of representation in the tech field? Let’s take a look at the numbers.

Scary statistics

According to data from the non-profit organization Girls Who Code, there is a precipitous drop off in interest in computer science careers for girls as they mature. Girls who are 6 to 12 years old have a 66% percent enrollment in computing programs; by the time they get to middle and high school, this number is in the low 30s. Follow this trend all the way to college freshmen and only 4% of women are interested in these careers.

Over time, less women have taken an interest in computer science. In 1984, 37% of graduates in computer science were women but in 2016, this number is just 18%, which is staggeringly low. If you look at the number of minority women in this field, it’s significantly smaller. What could be happening?

Could stigma be blamed?

Could social acceptance have anything to do with this drop? When most people think of a coder or software developer, they think of a man. When girls think that a career path isn’t open to them because they only see images of men associated with it, that can have a significant impact on their choice to explore it. If that’s the case, we have a lot of work to do in making tech careers appear as diverse, inclusive and innovative as they actually are. Iliana Rivera from Cisco said it best when I asked her about what it would take to break the stereotypes that are holding women back from pursuing tech and STEM careers, “It’ s OK to be a geek,” she said. “Being a geek is amazing and you can be a beautiful geek […] it’s OK to be an engineer and have high heels.”

Representation seems to be a problem

I asked Julie Elberfeld, SVP, Commercial Bank CIO at Capital One, about the benefits that companies of any size can derive from a more diverse workforce. She commented, “Only when the workforce represents the customer population will we be able to create the most innovative products for customers.” Julie also commented that there are not enough women role models in technology talking about the great careers they have. “You cannot be what you cannot see,” and this theme rang throughout the conference no matter who I spoke to.

Missed advantages?

If you look at the trends, tech jobs of every kind have been some of the best rewarded monetarily and fastest growing for many years now. These are solid careers working for some of the best companies in the world. In fact, if you look at the top 5 companies in market capitalization today, they are all tech companies. What does this mean? Simple, women and minorities could be missing some of the best opportunities our connected and technological times have to offer.

Turning things around

Thanks to the ongoing efforts of women like Julie, Ileana and many more I met at the conference, more women and minorities are encouraged to enter the field of technology.

According to a Pew Research Center study released in March of this year, online demographics are shifting as women are just as active as men online with younger women outpacing their male peers. While the graduation rates in Computer Science and STEM careers are growing, the NSF Science and Engineering Indicators of 2016 point out that women and minorities are still underrepresented in the Engineering and Science workforce but to a lesser degree than in past years.

Some thoughts

I think that as a society, we can continue to promote and increase the appeal of tech, science and engineering careers to children who one day will grow up to be leaders in the tech workforce. Kids learn from role models so it’s important they continue to see women leading the technology world today. If we continue to celebrate the successes of powerful women in tech, the next generation of female leaders will see that working in tech is a place where women can thrive.

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