Why Are Some Women Saying No to Tech? (Part 1)

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Factors that may be deterring women from pursuing careers in tech

In an article published last week in Quartz, Vickie Elmer illustrated that although more women are pursuing occupations relating to math and science, fewer women are pursuing careers in tech, a trend that began around 1990.

As outlined in the article, women make up approximately half of the US workforce and have strong representation in mathematical (47%) and social science (61%) related jobs. However, when it comes to technology related employment, women hold only 27% of computer professional positions and 13% of engineering positions.
Women STEM Occupations

This raises two important questions:

  1. Why are so few women pursuing formal education or training in computer science, engineering, and other technology related subjects?
  2. Why do many women not find the tech sector appealing for a potential career?

Let’s explore the first question. Earlier this year, I wrote a blog post about a range of strategies being employed to make STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) skill development and careers more attractive and accessible to girls. It is too early to determine the impact of these efforts, as these initiatives are still relatively new. In time however, we should be able to ascertain whether college enrollment rates in STEM subjects have increased amongst female students and whether these students are translating their education into new technological innovations in the form of issuing new patents, establishing startups or closing the tech skills gap in the US by joining companies operating in the tech sector.

3 Recommendations to Draw More Women into Tech

From my observations, many of the initiatives underway that intend to draw more females towards STEM education and skill development seem to be useful and effective. There are, however, some areas that can be improved to enhance the awareness and impact of these efforts and encourage more women to pursue formal education and training in computer and engineer related fields. The following are some recommendations that may support this effort:

1) Scaling through Partnerships

There are a significant number of nonprofit and private sector organizations that have developed creative strategies to tackle this challenge. Unfortunately, due to limited resources and access to a small fraction of the target student population, the impact, though relatively effective at the individual level, falls short at scale. I think governments need to play a vital role in facilitating partnerships between public education systems and the private and nonprofit sectors to help get these programs into as many classrooms as possible and provide more female students with opportunities to develop STEM skills and seriously consider a career in the tech sector.

2) Enhancing Awareness and Access

The second point, in some respect, comes back to the issue of limited resources. Most initiatives underway to address this challenge operate in urban centers or existing technology hubs throughout the country. Though this makes sense from a cost and feasibility standpoint, rural communities cannot be excluded from accessing these opportunities, as this will only serve to further expand the technology gap. Perhaps we need to increase the usage of online platforms from different hubs across the country to ensure that access to these programs remains on par with urban centers.

3) Transforming the Culture

One element that has not been fully utilized and holds great potential for influencing more female students towards STEM education is to transform the culture and perceptions of female techies. Key influencers in shaping the culture of any society (i.e., leaders, thinkers, writers, celebrities, etc.) need to play an active role in demonstrating the value and importance of not only adopting technology but participating in its development and application to different facets of our lives. As more young women are able to identify with female technology professionals, either as mentors or role models, the greater the likelihood that more will choose to pursue career paths aligned with computer technology.

In my next blog post, I will address the second question — why do many women not find the tech sector appealing? —  and outline some factors that continue to dissuade some women from considering careers in the tech sector.

Have you come across related programs or initiatives that aspire towards a similar objective or are making a significant impact to this challenge? Can you think of any other strategies that may help address this issue?

Head of People Operations