Breaking Social Stereotypes – Women In Technology

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I got into the Tech space some 35 years ago, then there were very few women in the technology companies with which I was working. I was quite sure that over time and, given the vast numbers of females entering the workforce, that the situation would have improved itself. But shockingly, based on my observations as well as a series of studies I have seen, that is simply not true. In fact, it may have gotten worse!

I so admire the women that have entered the Tech field but the truth is that there are simply too few of them!  According to one study, from 2004-2011, the graduation of females in computer science rapidly lost ground both in terms of actual numbers and relative percentage. In fact, in 2011, according to the Department of Education, of the roughly 40,000 degrees in C.S., only 7,500 were females, dropping to only 18%- the lowest ratio since 1974. Looking further, in terms of women in tech as evidenced by the number of female Chief Information Officers, it is at a ridiculously low 9%.

Some time ago, I saw where 2 SiliconValley giants are now offering a major perk to attract women to their tech companies:  Facebook and Apple will pay their female employees to put their child-bearing on ice for a period and freeze their eggs.  In one article I saw, egg freezing has been described as a key to leveling the playing field between men and women in tech. One noted writer, Emma Rosenblum of Bloomberg Businessweek even said:  “Not since the birth control pill has a medical technology had such potential to change family and career planning.”

While this egg-freezing benefit may encourage a small percentage of women to enter the world of tech, the perk, in my view, occurs far too late in their work career. The problem starts much sooner, let me explain.

I did some homework, I went back and looked at a couple of studies. According to a US Department of Education, in high school, young women make up roughly 50% of all high school courses in biology, chemistry, math, and physics.

But as their schooling moves forward, you see a dramatic decline in college. In fact, while in high school, females are 49% of enrollees in Calculus; but in college, females constitute far less than 25% of those enrolled in technology, engineering and math.

Further, today, girls comprise about 46% of the advanced placement calculus test takers and that is good. But Note: Approximately 80% of them don’t end up taking a computer science class. And that’s not good.

What happens? Frankly, I don’t know, but it is something that is really bothersome. How and why do they lose interest in just a few years between high school and college?

In visiting with one female Technologist, she observed that when taking tech classes in college, she would get funny looks from her male counterparts. Eventually she switched majors because “I got tired of being passed over for internship and research opportunities that were given to my male counterparts who were not performing as well academically.” She added that she was frustrated with “being the one person in the room who had to know the right answer all the time, because if I did not know the answer I would get the look. The look consists of 50% “oh look its so cute she is trying to answer”, 30% “why are you here” and 20% “why are you wasting everyone’s time.”  Not surprising that she switched majors.

The percentage of females who eventually find a career in hard sciences is less than 10% of the population. Not good.

And yet, technology is a part of everything we do. We live in a digital world. Folks – it is the 21st Century – an age of information enlightenment, and yet women seem to be lagging as participants in this incredible new world of technology.

We can do better, and as a CEO and Chairman I advocate the hiring of women in tech not just because they are women but honestly because it is great for business. By way of a simple example, men alone are not going to have the insights necessary to build technology that will truly work for women. And get this Mr. CEO – According to the Harvard Business Review, there’s more money to be made in specific marketing to women than to India and China combined.

Further, a diverse workplace is proven to get better results and more closely parallels one’s customer base.

Let me be clear: I am not encouraging the hiring of more women in tech just for diversity purposes. I am someone that has been responsible for the hiring of hundreds, if not thousands of people over the years. In fact, today, most recently, I have been Chairman of the Board of a company in the Center of the hiring world – HireVue.  And simply put, I like hiring women in tech roles because they get results. They are great at what they do.

In discussing this proposed article with Jane Thomas, one of our software programmers at HireVue, she made the following points:

Being a female programmer is not for the faint of heart. It requires overcoming the following obstacles:

  1. breaking social stereotypes
  2. living and working among a majority that sees the world differently from you, and
  3. fighting to prove you can learn and do something hard (programming)

Some years ago, I became the first male member of the Advisory Board for the Women’s Tech Council of Utah. It is a wonderful organization that provides mentoring, visibility, and networking for women in technology companies. The organization not only provides these efforts for women in the professional world but recognizes we have to start sooner. Starting sooner makes a huge difference and we have to focus our efforts there.

Of course, we all know of the importance of eliminating gender stereotypes. They do have a negative impact on the desire of women to have a career in technology. But note – it is not just how women perceive themselves but also how potential employers view them. One concerning experimental study from Stanford showed that someone with a female name was judged by a harsher standard than someone with a male name when applying for an engineering internship.

To me, the needed education to encourage young ladies to participate in the tech world starts very early in life.  It starts in the home. The home will be the place that will have the greatest influence on whether a young women will perceive herself as having sufficient technical chops to make it as a computer engineer.

I am blessed with ten precious Granddaughters. I want them to be fully immersed in technology and see all of the options for a career in Tech. As I reflect on the statistics and thoughts above, I realized that the best place to start solving this lack of “women in tech” problem is with me and the young ladies to whom I am closest. Moving forward, I am going to commit to:

  1. Encourage my granddaughters that they can be great mathematicians, computer scientists, or Big Data analysts.
  2. Get them to leverage their early expertise in SnapChat, Facebook, and Instagram to morph those skills into coding in Javascript, C++, and Python.
  3. Demonstrate the impact a technical career can have on a woman’s career and earning power over her life
  4. Tell them how many options exist for a career in tech. Teach them how a technology background is going to help distinguish them in the job market.
  5. Next time I go toy shopping with one of these young ladies, I won’t stop in the Doll aisle; We’ll move on to the hot new digital products.
  6. Encourage them to take hard sciences in high school, to build the foundation for what they can do in college in the tech space.
  7. Lead by Example – My wife is the greatest example our ten granddaughters can have. In her 50’s, she earned a PhD in Instructional Technology and built a game changing Tech company from the ground up called the VIEW-Virtual Immersive Educational Worlds using 3D as an educational and training platform instead of using it to play mind-blogging games. In fact, she is now changing the way people can learn a foreign language while traveling through a 3D virtual world

We live in an information age. Digital means everything, and Women should be as deeply participative in this key sector of our economy as men.

For more ideas, on getting your own female kids, grandkids, siblings, involved in this world of Tech, check out http://www.hiremorewomenintech.com/

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Posted in Posted in Entrepreneurship, Family  |  18 Comments

18 thoughts on “Breaking Social Stereotypes – Women In Technology”

  1. I’m sending this over to my daughter, it would be fun to get her take. She just graduated a week ago from University of Utah. She began with trying on Mining Engineering, then moved to Biomedical Engineering and was into her Senior year and working at Biofire when she was advised that she’d make more money just majoring in basic Math and then pursuing a biomed masters. She moved because her concern was staying marketable in a quickly changing work force. For her the choice was fiscal and long term. So many undergraduates don’t see the forest through the trees. What good is Psychology of Gender Studies when there are no jobs…

    1. Thx for sharing this with your daughter, Joni. That’s awesome. Hope all will share on social media so we can get people thinking more how to involve women in tech!

  2. I was fortunate enough to be invited to take one of the first ” Women in Business” classes taught at UVU, based On Sheryl Sandberg’s book, “Lean In”. As I interned on a local tech company’s General Counsel .. I was surprised that only 7 women out of over 100 men that worked in the software company, and excluding the CEO and some very wise women…None of the men had ever heard of her. It is an inspirational book for all aspiring women in the tech world. With humorous, real stories of howSheryl has changed the corporate world as the CFO for Facebook , now a full time employee for Disney. I presented a Pretzi demonstration that was actually emailed to Sheryl by one of my Professor’s which was such an honor . I agree with your advice , and have planed on taking more technology classes. Adobe’s Tamra Gaffney, also came and spoke to us, she also commented on the lack of women interviewing, saying it’s not that they don’t want to hire them, it’s that there aren’t enough qualified applicants for the jobs. I also was able to interview as a personal friended mine concerning the subject , Jacqueline Brinkerhoff, who is now the Senior Global Manager (just promoted again) at Hewlett Packard. Admitting her experience at Novell and Symantec , as well as staying in touch with her contacts helped her remain hirable.

    1. Christina – thanks for “leaning IN” and adding these great comments. Sheryl is an amazing leader and example.

  3. David,
    I think it’s wondrful that you’ve written this and taken a position on the topic! I applaud you for that. As a woman in tech since the late 80s and a 3-time tech company CEO, I think it’s as important to discuss what companies and men can do as it is to discuss what young girls and women can do. It would be great to hear your guidance to male hiring managers and leaders — what steps do they take to hire outside the “mirror” and their comfort zone? You’ve opened the conversation by being a man discussing the topic … What can men do in this generation rather than the next?
    Deidre

    1. You are a brilliant technology leader, Deidre. Thanks so much for weighing in. Indeed, I can do more here in terms of discussing what make hiring mgrs and leaders should be doing. all the best- david

  4. Great article. I coached a female co-worker this week through a tough situation. As a project manager of a technical team, she is ultimately responsible for the execution of the project. Yet, because the team consisted of all men she was afraid to “lean-in”, instead she acted as a social facilitator. When the project started going south, I had to point out that its OK to confront the men on the team, in fact it was essential for the project’s success. In the 20 years that I have been working in technology, women have been hired, but they have also been pushed into Project Manager and Business Analyst roles. In the technology field, knowledge is power and these two roles hold the least amount of power in any technical project. I will be satisfied when I see women speaking at technology events not only as CEO’s, but CTO’s. Today, the number of female CTO’s is virtually non-existent.

    1. Jenna – this is great input. Thanks for taking the time to write it up. Indeed, we need more female CTO’s!

  5. David,
    Thank you for documenting this issue. It’s apparent that, beyond the question of whether as big a proportion of females are as gifted in this area as men, not as many are interested in computer science. Is there something wrong with that? Are we reduced to asking, like Professor Higgins’s song in My Fair Lady, “Why Can’t a Woman Be More Like a Man?”

  6. One question I have always had is why women tend to gravitate to Biology and to a lesser extent chemistry? Over the years I have hired numerous women with undergraduate degrees in the sciences and engineering, but 90+ percent of the applications from women came from those two disciplines.

  7. Hi David,

    Thank you for the insightful blog. Most women who have been in tech for a number of years could probably teach a graduate-level course on gender bias in technology. It is important to know about bias and to take personal responsibility to confront it head-on in the workplace. Women can be collaborative, but also drivers. Women can be team players but also accomplish hard business goals. It is great to get this topic out there and get everyone understanding that once you understand bias and how we all carry some of it in our day- to-day interactions, you can never ignore it again.

  8. Great topic, David – something near to my heart!

    “Why aren’t women interested” seems to be a frequent question and it’s a good starting point.

    I’ve been in many circumstances where I’m the only woman in the room. As an outspoken person who generally gets along with all sorts of people, I’m comfortable with that. I’ve not been comfortable when it’s clear that I wasn’t *wanted* in the room. Life’s too short – why should I go somewhere I’m clearly not wanted? I look to get out of those situations.

    From your post, I think that’s what the female Technologist was telling you about her classes in school. I believe you’re spot on with suggesting that we need to start early in encouraging girls to pursue this field. I’d add that we should concurrently work on instructors and the boys pursuing the field to understand the impact of their behavior, as well as benefits of inclusion for them.

    Thanks, David – important social change is often accelerated when those in the majority view become advocates. I greatly appreciate your post and will be sharing it, especially with my daughter!

  9. I think the “problem” is not quite what most people think. Some facts:

    – In the open source world where everyone is free to contribute and quite often people do not know if you are male or female immediately, the gender gap is much bigger than in any computer science program or place of employment. E.g out of the top 100 contributors to the Linux kernel only 2 are female – at least last time I checked was about a year ago. You cannot write this off as “men get better training from schools” – a lot of open source developers picked it up without being formally trained in computer science, and even the ones that had some formal schooling did most of their learning on their own by taking the code part and playing with it until they figured it out.

    – Top female software developers tend to come from China, India, and Russia. I can only speak with authority for Russia, but I have a sense that things are not fundamentally different in China and India. Russia does not do much to promote specifically women in technology – in fact, Russian cultural stereotypes are a lot worse than in the US. For example, my mother who holds a PhD in chemistry often jokes about “feminine logic” and makes other similar comments which would be frowned on in the US.

    I think we are just dealing with some natural difference between men and women similar to athletic performance. Distance running would be a good parallel. Women’s world record in the marathon is 2:15. That wins a lot of fairly competitive men’s races – would win any race in Utah. But does not win the Olympics, Boston, New York, Chicago, etc. because it is about 12 minutes behind men’s world record. Additionally there is the issue of depth – there are a lot more men that are currently within 10 minutes of the men’s world record than women within the same margin of the women’s world record. So for world record men’s time is only 12 minutes faster, major competition is won at about 17 minutes faster, local competitions average 25-30 minute difference.

    This type of natural difference is not present in every area of technology, but in some.

    I think we would do better if we acknowledged that the natural difference exists and worked with it instead of playing the game of political correctness. Otherwise we are doing women a disservice and fail to properly reward them for their contributions.

  10. Thank you David! Innovation and data are where women – and all of us – need to be. Women fight across many lines. Technology is just one. When we look at the battle to defund basic health care for women at Planned Parenthood, freezing eggs for future childbearing seems far from most young women’s realities.

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