“We need more women in tech!”
For several years now, the dearth of women working in technology — and the need for creative ways to attract girls and women to technology-related careers, has been a hot topic. Yet despite all of the initiatives, the scholarships, the STEM education, and the outreach, for the most part, women are still woefully underrepresented in technology, particularly in IT.
The question then isn’t so much about whether women need more opportunities for tech careers or not, but how to attract more women into the field. The answer it seems isn’t so much about getting girls involved in computer science at a young age, but about finding out from women what they actually want from a technology career and giving it to them.
Starting With Education
Much of the conversation about attracting women to technology has focused on education — and getting girls interested in STEM subjects in elementary school and beyond. There is some value in this, but despite the best efforts of educators, women still make up only about 18 percent of computer science graduates.
Organizations like Girls Who Code, which was founded in 2011 to help attract girls to computer science education, have made some headway in attracting young women to the field. However, as the organization’s founder Reshma Saujani points out, girls are often confronted with two major obstacles to pursuing STEM careers in the long term:
- A popular culture that tells girls that STEM is not for them because it’s socially isolating, not fashionable, or even “geeky”
- A lack of knowledge about what it means to work in technology today and the different roles and opportunities that are available to them.
In other words, there is a popular perception that working in tech means being relegated to a basement somewhere where you can write code all day — and that’s simply not appealing to many girls.
Unfortunately, many women who already work in technology report that the perceptions about the field are, at least to some extent, true. Even women who have the education and experience required to become leaders, have put in the time to earn IT certifications, and are knowledgeable about their roles often find that they don’t receive the same level of respect as their male counterparts.
Many report that working in a male-dominated field affects their confidence, meaning that they may not always seek out or go after opportunities they are qualified for, or feel comfortable asking for a larger salary or more responsibility. It’s no wonder, then, that at some of the world’s largest technology firms, including Google, Apple, Facebook, and Microsoft, women make up only about 20 percent of the entire workforce.
Changing the Conversation
It seems, then, that the answer to attracting women into technology doesn’t lie in education only, but in a culture change, both on a broader, popular scale and within the field itself. According to one recent survey, women identified several key areas where they would like to see improvement in tech careers, including:
A More Flexible Work Schedule
IT, in particular, is rarely viewed as a 9-to-5 job, but in general, women tend to be more reluctant to work traditional hours than men. A flexible schedule that allows for greater work-life balance is one of the top concerns of women.
More Female Role Models and Mentors
A lack of support in the workplace, or pressure to be “one of the guys,” often frustrates women, who do not feel welcomed. A female-friendly culture that allows for the hiring of more women creates the opportunity for more role models, and thus more women within the company altogether.
Additional Support for Education
Women want to learn more, but with the current culture, there is often little incentive to put the time and effort into learning new skills or certifications. Creating a culture in which training and education are not only encouraged, but supported via tools and financial aid as well as incentives for successful completion.
Increased Awareness and Efforts to Combat Sexism
Studies show that more than half of women who enter the technology field leave within the first ten years, often due to the sexism and lack of opportunities. Companies that want to attract and retain women need to work harder to identify sexism and develop solutions to the problem.
To be fair, many companies have improved their efforts to increase diversity in the workplace and attract more women to technology careers. Companies like Intel, for example, have instituted meaningful diversity recruitment policies that incentive referrals for women and minorities; the clear and measurable goals that the company put forth led to 40 percent more diverse hires in 2015. However, these efforts need to become more widespread and focused on more than just education if the number of women in technology is going to continue to grow.