For Tech To Hire More Women, Perception Of The Industry Must Change
To diversify ranks, young women need to see themselves in lifelong tech careers. If the technology sector is to ever add more women, then the time has come for fresh thinking and new approaches.
Since I began working in the industry — during the dot-com period — interested groups have demanded that more be done about the relatively small number of women working in the sector. Now seems to be the perfect time to recruit more. The pandemic and remote work opportunities have led untold numbers of workers to find new jobs and even careers.
I wish I could say I’m optimistic that we’ll soon see an influx of female software engineers and machine learning scientists. I believe most companies realize they benefit when their workforces are made up of diverse backgrounds, experiences and ideas. However, numerous attempts to create credible, lasting diversity in the workplace have been stymied in even some of the largest, most forward-thinking tech companies.
I’m not an expert on the reasons, although if you ask anyone in Silicon Valley who has done any recruiting, they’re likely to explain that the pool of female candidates simply isn’t very large.
Today, more women than ever are earning bachelor’s degrees in science and engineering subjects. However, according to data from the National Science Foundation, when breaking down individual fields of study, women earned 19% of bachelor’s degrees in computer science in 2016 compared with 27% in 1997. That tells me plenty of women have an interest in STEM, but a diminishing number consider tech an attractive option.
If we’re to add more women workers, I believe we need to change how society perceives our industry and prove technology is not strictly the province of men. We must show women they can find fulfilling and rewarding careers here.
The good news is, we already have models for achieving this.
Apple And Mini MBA Programs
In the 1980s, Apple Computer donated thousands of Apple IIe personal computers to California elementary and high schools as part of the company’s Kids Can’t Wait initiative. The move helped spark the computer craze by not only introducing computers to kids but also changing the perception of computer nerds. Suddenly, geeks were cool — or at least less uncool.
To grow interest in a field, you need to plant a seed early. Some people have already begun introducing teenage girls to technology and entrepreneurialism.
A remarkable organization called Girls With Impact has created what I can only describe as a mini-MBA program for young women. My 15-year-old daughter recently completed the program. The instructors teach girls ages 12 to 18 all the semantics of the modern business world. This includes how to lead with creativity, find a real world challenge they are passionate about, create a minimum viable product (MVP), build a business case for the product and how to market and raise funds for the product. The instruction starts at ideation and goes all the way to roughing out a profit and loss statement.
Programs like this also could become boot camps for women startup founders and CEOs. If tech were to become known for encouraging women to become bosses, that would certainly help recruiting. To make this ideal a reality, parents need to buy into the possibility that their daughters can become the next great technologist or startup founder.
Tech companies need to support such programs with their time and money.