By: Amber Reumont
On Monday, September 15th, Baltimore Innovation Week hosted its second annual Women In/Tech conference. The event brought together women of diverse backgrounds to network and discuss issues currently impacting women in the technology world. A recurrent topic discussed at many of the panels was the massive disparity between men and women working in technological jobs. Not only do technology firms lack women, but they also lack racial and ethnic diversity. This creates a problem for women and minorities as well as the technology firms themselves. As noted at the conference, the lack of diversity within these companies may inhibit their abilities to continue developing creatively. Thinkers with diverse backgrounds foster the growth of diverse ideas.
The Growing the Pipeline panel focused on strategies to encourage women to pursue technology careers and ensure firms seek female employees. Women make up a minor 17 percent of tech employees at Google and a miniscule 10 percent at Twitter. A major facet of the diversity problem in technology careers is the lack of education and the lack of role models. Because women and minorities often cannot relate to the figureheads they see in technology fields, they are discouraged. Additionally, a lack of role models may lead women to feel they are unable to pursue such career paths. Gwynne Shotwell, President and Chief Operating Officer of SpaceX, exemplifies the importance of having female role models in technology jobs because her decision to pursue an education in engineering was entirely influenced by her encounter with a well-dressed, feminine engineer, a woman with whom she felt a connection. Relatable role models allow us to envision ourselves in their position, and they boost our confidence in our abilities.
While role models are integral to women’s participation in technology, education is the necessary first step that must be taken to make such fields accessible. Although women make up 48 percent of the workforce, they account for merely 24 percent of STEM workers. Improving education at the high school level by providing updated information and one-on-one mentorship could encourage young girls to pursue STEM majors when they reach the college level. Growing the Pipeline panelists emphasized the importance of mentorship, through after-school clubs and professional development for current teachers. High school level computer science education is either nonexistent or inadequate. Additionally, developing women’s interest in technology fields could be achieved by showing students the widespread use of computer science skills across various fields of interest such as education and healthcare. Creating a foundation of interest for students, particularly women and minorities, can grow the diversity of technology enterprises.
On the other hand, the Seat at the Table panel emphasized the need for a cultural shift. Women and men both must change the way they perceive women as professionals and as individuals to ensure equal opportunity in the future. Women often fall victim to self-criticism and modesty, thereby limiting their opportunities to grow their network and their skills. According to Katty Kay and Claire Shipman, authors of The Confidence Code, “Compared with men, women don’t consider themselves as ready for promotions, they predict they’ll do worse on tests, and they generally underestimate their abilities.” Therefore, confidence is a massive hindrance standing in the way of women’s success. The panelists noted that women are not only less likely to pursue opportunities due to a lack of confidence, but they are also holding themselves to unattainable standards; women feel the pressure to ‘have it all.’
Women are attending college at a higher rate than men, yet their wage-earning abilities lag behind because they enter lower-paying jobs, pursue fewer advancement opportunities, and often leave the workforce temporarily to devote time to parenting. Fostering the growth of women in technology fields will not only provide a diverse workforce with creative ideas, but it will also improve the earning ability of women. Developing this interest in technology must begin during grade school to develop rudimentary skills and teach female students that such skills are applicable to a wide range of their interests. From graphic design to education technology to app development, technology now plays a role in every industry, and women must take part.
Women interested in growing their technological capabilities can visit: http://www.womenintechnology.org/