A recent study of 500 companies found that higher levels of racial and gender diversity lead to increased sales revenue, higher profits, and more customers. Yet, we still see a disparity between men and women in certain fields—and that’s certainly the case in the IT industry.
The same study showed that in 2014, women held only about a quarter of the computing occupations. This number has remained steady, except for a slight 2% increase of women in the field in the last six years. One of the main reasons is that women lack role models in the field, which prevents them from considering certain roles when choosing a career.
WHY THE DISPARITY BETWEEN MEN AND WOMEN?
While girls and boys tend to perform similarly in math and science at lower grades, the number of women who pursue STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) degrees dropped at the undergraduate level. Less than 20% of women pursue degrees in the computer sciences.
The problem is exacerbated further when they enter the workforce. Women in IT tend to make 79 cents to the dollar men make and don’t always find the support they need. Many female workers cite a sexist work culture as well as a lack of support for having children. They have also found it difficult to find investors for startups and new innovations. However, times may be changing…
A DIFFERENT MOLD FOR ROLE MODELS
As of 2014, women have made up a quarter of the tech roles in U.S. companies and over 27% of the IT managerial roles. Women now have a seat at the C-suite – think Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook, and Marissa Mayer, former chief executive officer and president of Yahoo.
What’s more, female role models have emerged in other avenues. While we’re used to seeing leading men in movies, magazines, TV and other media (Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs), a trend has taken root to showcase the talents of forgotten women IT innovators. The movie Hidden Figures came out last year, and told the story of a team of African-American women mathematicians who were part of the early years of NASA’s space program.
Women continue to make their mark on information technology. Diana L. Burley is an in-demand speaker for tech panels. She is a professor of human and organizational learning at George Washington University, and she is the executive director and chair of the Institute for Information Infrastructure Protection (I3P). The goal of this organization is to improve the nation’s cyber infrastructure.
Radia Perlman is often referred to as the “Mother of the Internet.” She created the algorithm behind the Spanning Tree Protocol (STP), which is a necessary part of the foundation of the Internet. She has created textbooks, including being a co-author of Network Security, and she has taught courses at the University of Washington, MIT and Harvard University.
“Female presence has been growing in both entrepreneurship and investment sides over the past two years,” notes Nicole Jiao, financial advisor in tech, writing for a finance blog. “You now see more women at hackathon events and technology summits, partially because of joint efforts from both the tech industry and education sector.”
These are only a handful of the women changing the face of the modern IT workforce, and many other women are trying to encourage their fellow female citizens to do more. Women have even begun to create female-directed crowdfunding and investor sites to help female founders, including sites like AllBright and Ellevest. The goal is to empower more women to start their own businesses or create innovative technologies.
IT’S NOT JUST ABOUT WOMEN. IT’S ABOUT INCLUSION.
“I want to speak at events where women AND men are listening. This is not a ‘women’s problem’. It’s a ‘society problem’. And we need the whole of society to change it,” says Belinda Parmar, chief executive of Lady Geek regarding gender equality.
On a similar note, Natalie Sun, a creative technologist for Next Art cited that her work life obstacle was more than just being a woman in tech; as an introvert, she personally struggles with asserting herself in male dominated meetings. Studies show that social language can be a challenge for everyone, not just women.
Overall, women and diversity in general make businesses more competitive by adding different perspectives. Consider that women comprise 70-80% of all purchasing power, and 33% of women identify as “early adopters” and are willing to take a chance on new technology.
Your company culture and values make all the difference. Talking about women participating is the first step; personal development for all employees is the next big thing.
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