Women in Technology
By: Mary Clare Riordan
There’s no doubt that women in technology are vastly under-represented. What’s even more concerning is that the number of women employed in the industry has actually been in decline–women represented 36 percent of computer science undergraduate degree recipients in 1984, with that number dropping significantly to 14 percent by 2013.
However, the US Department of Labor estimates that by 2020 there will be more than 1.4 million computing-related job openings in this country, and at current rates, we can only fill about 30% of those jobs with US computing bachelor’s grads. This presents a huge opportunity for women, a largely untapped talent pool in the tech professions, to take advantage of a growing and increasingly important field.
But how do we close this gender gap, and get more women and girls interested in the field? I caught up with some of my fellow female colleagues here at LYONSCG to get a better understanding of why it is important for women to pursue jobs in the tech industry, what barriers they may have faced being a female in the industry, and what we can do as a society to promote the contribution of women in the computer science field.
Why aren’t girls interested in becoming involved in tech?
Whether we mean to or not, there are certain societal messages that children start receiving from a young age. Maybe it’s that Barbie dolls and princess castles are more suited for girls, while video games and experiment sets are meant for boys. Kristina Slamar, Applications Coordinator at LYONSCG and one of the first female engineers ever hired at our company, believes it’s important to expand the horizons for girls at a young age in terms of their interests.
“When I was a child, my dad taught me how to put things together with him—such as a new grill or lawnmower—and encouraged me at age 11 to work with computers when we got our first one in our home. This undoubtedly sparked my interest in technology and gave me the confidence to pursue the career I have today.”
Slamar has passed on this same encouragement to her own six-year-old daughter. She makes sure to never label something as a boy or a girl toy, and has encouraged her daughter to learn basic engineering concepts with building block sets. Her husband also has plans in the not so distant future to teach their daughter code through Scratch, a product of the MIT Media Lab meant to help young people create interactive stories, games, and animations that can be shared in their online community. By encouraging girls from a young age to pursue whatever interests them, and also inspiring them to take an interest in technology, Slamar believes more girls will find themselves gravitating towards careers in the tech industry.
What can girls bring to the world of technology? How do we support girls and encourage them to pursue tech careers?
Even though often outnumbered, women in technology should not be taken for granted. They’ve had to work just as hard, or sometimes harder, to get to the same place as their male counterparts. Kristi Hardy, Development Manager at LYONSCG, remembers many times during her college computer science classes where she was the only girl in the room, and had to prove to her doubting professors that she could do the work. When asked what girls bring to the technical field, her answer is simple: everything boys bring.
“I have used every challenge I’ve come across in my career to drive myself to prove the assumptions others have of me are wrong,” says Hardy. “I want to be an example to my nieces and girls everywhere that it’s not about what gender you are, but rather it’s about the hard work and perseverance you have that determines how far you can go.”
Jennifer Torchia, Senior Applications Engineer at LYONSCG, echoes Hardy’s sentiments regarding gender. “I feel different people naturally bring fresh perspectives to the industry, not because of their gender, but because they’re simply different. We all have different talents, passions, and creative inklings. Adding more women into the mix only increases the diversity of minds and personalities needed to keep the industry moving forward.”
Torchia, a self-taught web developer, believes that the best way to encourage girls to take an interest in tech is to have women already in the field act as mentors and role models for the younger generation. “I was fortunate to have encouragement from my family as a young girl to pursue my dreams—as evidenced by a photo of me on Christmas morning hugging a huge box holding my first computer: a Texas Instruments TI-99/4A. Women in tech should pay it forward and take a special interest helping in schools or extracurricular clubs by speaking and mentoring young girls, or should even encourage their employers to offer internships or shadowing programs.”
Yuki Maruyama, Senior Applications Engineer at LYONSCG, also believes that it’s important to create a community for girls in the technology industry. “Sometimes it can be intimidating being one of the few women in technology. It would be great to create conferences and networking opportunities to make girls feel welcomed and comfortable within the field.”
What steps should girls take if interested in the tech field?
Females represent 56% of all Advanced Placement test-takers, 46% of all Advanced Placement Calculus test-takers, but only 19% of all Computer Science test-takers. Much of this has to do with the lack of exposure to computer science for younger girls.
While it’s true that computer science is often overlooked in the curriculums of many schools across the country, there are more and more resources popping up that educate women in coding and are helping them to get into the technology industry. Bootcamps, classes, workshops and lessons are often available at little to no cost for girls who want to pursue coding.
For Jen Scott, Applications Engineer at LYONSCG, her interest in technology came later in her career after working in event planning and marketing. “My choice to enroll into a program at the local tech school was an impulsive one, but one I’ve never regretted. It was affordable and flexible, and even without a solid computer background, I was writing my first ‘Hello World’ program within a week or so of starting.” After graduation, Scott says she had plenty of employment opportunities. While even she had misconceptions about what it meant to be a computer programmer, Scott believes girls who have a passion for computers should ignore the naysayers and pursue their interests. “Coding is for everyone and anyone can be a coder.”
Nicole Rose, Senior Applications Engineer at LYONSCG, who actually has a music degree, is also an example of it never being too late to pursue a career in technology. “I’ve seen many women who I believe would be excellent coders never take the first step to learn, whether it’s due to intimidation or lack of conviction. Having self-confidence is key to coding. I always think that once a woman gets a taste of the strength that being involved in tech gives you, there starts a journey toward freedom and a sense of self-mastery in one’s life like no other.”
Technology is Key to our Future
Computers and technology are becoming ever more important to people’s everyday lives. From digital medical records, to online grocery shopping, to educating the masses, tech affects almost every aspect of society. “Being a computer scientist brings cutting edge technology to life in ways that are tangible and exciting,” says Shelly Baldwin, Technical Lead at LYONSCG. “There’s a great opportunity for women and girls to make a difference using their unique perspectives and experiences to transform the world and our futures.”