By: Aaron Skonnard
A growing skills gap means one thing: we need more people to fill technology jobs. And with just 25.6 percent of the computing workforce made up of women, despite accounting for almost half of the U.S. labors force; it’s clear the tech industry is overdue for its “Rosie the Riveter” moment.
Gender diversity and leadership in technology matters, not just as a means to fill empty roles or as an antidote to the male-dominated industry, but as a way to represent half of the world’s population and inject new experiences and ways of thinking into a dynamic industry that prides itself on being innovative.
It’s important to identify where the disparity stems from — education. It’s not just the industry that needs diversifying; it’s technology education as well.
Fostering gender diversity: how to get started
It’s no secret there’s a gender disparity in the tech industry. It’s something we’ve all noticed and we must make more concrete changes to remedy it. This starts with encouraging young girls to get involved in technology early on.
Young girls are underrepresented in computer science education, starting in K-12. Even though girls account for more than half of all Advancement Placement (AP) exam-takers, boys outnumber girls 4-1 in sitting for the computer science test. And the story doesn’t get much better in higher ed. It’s for this reason I’m happy to see the White House’s recent action to upgrade and expand STEM education, specifically to women and girls. Two bipartisan bills, the Inspiring the Next Space Pioneers, Innovators, Researchers, and Explorers Women Act, introduced by Congresswoman Barbara Comstock (R-Va.), and the Promoting Women in Entrepreneurship Act, introduced by Congresswoman Elizabeth Esty (D-Conn.), were signed into law by the President, with the goal to boost STEM education and encourage more girls and women to pursue careers in STEM-related fields. This is a good start but we need to do more.
We need to make the technology industry, and the academic and career paths within it, available to women and minorities. Women should not have to work harder for the same results in their career growth, put up with cultures that promote harassment, or feel like they won’t be considered for a leadership role because of their gender. It is critical that we fix these problems within our industry if we’re going to keep innovating.
Asking what women want
In 2016, Pluralsight partnered with Women Who Code to conduct a survey of women in technology. The results revealed that the biggest hurdle women feel they face in their careers is a lack of three things: opportunities for advancement, female role models and mentorship at work. We found more than 50 percent of women felt uncomfortable asking for a raise and nearly half were uncomfortable asking for a promotion—due in large part to their male-dominated work environments. Yet, another key finding helps shed light on how we can get more women into technical jobs in the first place: give them flexible work hours. Eighty percent of respondents listed flexibility as important to them, with one in four citing it as the most important factor when considering a career in tech.
We need to stop asking women to choose between career and family. Instead, it’s imperative we let them know we support their right and ability to have both with flexible company policies including paid and adequate maternity leave, quality benefits for dependents and partners, and strong focus and commitment to work-life balance.
Creating cultures that don’t tolerate discrimination or harassment
Customers and employees alike are boycotting brands that don’t align with their values, and smart companies are listening. In addition to being the right thing to do, gender diversity breeds different ideas and perspectives, and that in turn equates to more innovative, successful businesses.
For an industry that considers innovation to be at its core, we’ve fallen down on the job. It’s high time we walk the walk and enact real change that makes this dynamic hub a place where women, and people from all walks of life, can comfortably and confidently contribute ideas and help drive technology forward.