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:
- breaking social stereotypes
- living and working among a majority that sees the world differently from you, and
- 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:
- Encourage my granddaughters that they can be great mathematicians, computer scientists, or Big Data analysts.
- Demonstrate the impact a technical career can have on a woman’s career and earning power over her life
- 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.
- 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.
- Encourage them to take hard sciences in high school, to build the foundation for what they can do in college in the tech space.
- 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/