Women in Technology Summit June 9-11, 2019  •  DoubleTree by Hilton  •  San Jose, CA

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To Attract More Women to Tech, Focus on Multiple Skills

Anna Johansson

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In the world of tech, women are woefully underrepresented. In tech roles, women represent only 28% of Netflix, 17% of Twitter, 15% of Uber, 19% of Facebook, 23% of Apple, 20% of Google, and 19% of Microsoft. In the total workforce, those numbers climb to 43, 38, 36, 35, 32, 31, and 26%, respectively. In other words, when looking at the biggest and most influential tech companies in the world, women typically represent less than a quarter of the tech positions and only around a third of the positions overall.

But fixing the women in tech problem isn't easy. Some companies, like Google, have made a concentrated effort to hire more female applicants—and more minorities in general. However, part of the problem stems from women's lack of interest or motivation to pursue tech.

When computer science was in its infancy in the 80s, computers were heavily marketed to boys, and stereotypical computer geeks were all men—so as a culture, we began to heavily associate computer science, software engineering, and related fields as male-dominated. Today, women are still less likely to take computer science classes or pursue tech-related majors in college.

So what can we do to incentivize more women to be interested in tech from an early age?

One of the best strategies we have is to expose women to the diversity of skills and career paths available in tech.

What Exposure Could Look like

Giving women more exposure to the diverse array of skills they could employ in a tech career would necessitate some kind of guidance. It could be a teacher or a parent telling a student or daughter about all the different jobs available in the tech world; but more likely, it would come in the form of a mentorship program with a built-in rotation.

Ideally, young women—high school or college age, or possibly even younger—would be able to learn about multiple different potential career fields over the course of several days or weeks, meeting people—ideally women—in those fields, learning what it would take to get into a career like it, and having some hands-on practice.

Why Exposure to Multiple Skills Is Important

So why does this approach have the power to incentivize more women in tech if previous efforts have come up short?

There are a few major reasons:


  • Deconstructing tech—First, the term tech is all-encompassing, and therefore problematic. A tech career in 2019 could be almost anything involving a computer. Merely suggesting the idea of a tech career to a young woman is both overwhelming and unproductive; instead, this approach deconstructs what tech is and shows off the many different faces and natures of the tech world. Seeing dozens of different career paths and individual roles helps people figure out what they like—or don't like—about each role, and leads to a much more informed perspective about what counts as tech.

  • Disproving stereotypes—This is also a great opportunity to disprove stereotypes in the tech world. Ideally, the mentors, leaders, and role models involved in this type of program will also be women, or at least will be from many different backgrounds, proving that these career paths aren't just for white men. Being part of a workshop with multiple other young women could be enough to counter those stereotypes and incentivize more participation.

  • Showing, rather than telling—These demonstrations also necessitate at least some hands-on involvement from young women, encouraging them to employ some low-level tech skills or at least participate actively in some major tech responsibility. This first-person perspective naturally encourages more curiosity and helps introduce people to what they'd actually be doing in such a role—rather than merely describing it to them. It makes it much easier to accurately assess what type of role they'd like to have in the future.


Additional Problems

Of course, merely showcasing the number of career paths available in tech isn't going to be enough to encourage more women to pursue tech careers. We also need to have more role models, which are shown to have a positive impact in career interest. And of course, we need the help of all tech companies and companies hiring tech roles to open their doors to more female applicants. Still, we need to focus on each piece of the puzzle if we're going to solve it eventually.

Anna Johansson is a freelance writer, researcher, and business consultant. A columnist for Entrepreneur.com, Forbes.com, and more, Anna specializes in entrepreneurship, technology, and social media trends. Follow her on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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