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Strategies Aimed at Advancing More Women into The Tech Industry

By: James Cummings

Across the technology industry, it is no news that there is an imbalance in the number of men and women, especially in the initial stages of their career.

According to research, women occupy about 57% of occupations in the workplace, but when it comes to computing professions, they only make up 25%. In 2012, out of all CIOs (Chief Information Officers) in the top half of Fortune 500 companies, only 20% were women.

These low figures don’t stop at the workplace, unfortunately. It even appears in university systems. Back in 2010, it was reported that as opposed to the 57% of undergraduate degrees held by women, only 14% of them were in computer science courses from major research universities.

Surprisingly, the figure has dropped in recent years. Back in 1985, women occupied 37% of undergraduate degree courses in computer science. The numbers dropped to 18% in 2010 and at the time of the last study it was 14%.

What happened to the women in information technology?

Looking at the dipping numbers should bother anybody. What is the reason for this?

For one, as about half of the people who use technology products and websites are women, it is therefore in our best interests that there should be a significant number of women not only in production roles but in leadership positions too.

Delloite revealed in a recent study that women’s choices were responsible for about 85% of buying decisions. By their research, women account for $4.3 trillion of all consumer ($5.9) spending in the United States, making them the biggest single economic force not only in the U.S., but globally.

Another report by Parks Associate revealed that women represented a higher number of people downloading music and movies on the internet. This large economic power in technology products should naturally translate to an interest in computer science programs, but unfortunately this is not the case. Why?

  • Childhood upbringing

From a younger age, boys are inspired towards more tech driven toys/gadgets than girls. Unlike boys who are usually encouraged towards STEM courses by both parents, girls are geared towards the arts or less tech roles.

  • Peer pressure

It has been observed that girls who show interest in advanced physics or computer science courses are stereotyped by their peers as boring or ‘uncool’.

  • Competition in university

Many female students have told stories about how hard it was for them to cope with male colleagues in class. Even during team projects, they are forced to do most of the work on their own.

  • Workplace isolation

Even when women brave all odds and gain a position in the tech sector, they have gender issues to deal with such as isolation, office banter, and lower pay for doing the same work done by men.

In some cases, it is believed that tech roles take up more time and prevent women from truly being family-oriented, unlike jobs in other sectors. This could be a contributing reason as to why the number of women in STEM courses and roles appear to be dwindling.

However, it is time to put an end to stereotypes and adopt a more positive outlook on the subject. But how can more women be encouraged to take up careers in technology?

Strategies for promoting growth of women in STEM roles

Brendan Wilde, Marketing Manager at Umbrellar Cloud Hosting , says one way to end such stereotypes is to revisit the origins, and deal with the issue beginning in childhood.

“In the past, there have been gender-stereotypic associations for children, especially among what type of toys or games or books they should own or read.”

The subject of which child should own a doll or video game has often been an area of interest in gender debates. Incidentally, many women grow up to become more avid gamers than their male siblings.

“Parents and teachers should cease the differentiations and encourage both male and female children to access whatever interests them, whether it is computer-based or not,” Brendan says.

At a round table discussion held a few years ago on the same topic, when discussing such issues with other women working in tech, the U.K. shadow minister for Digital Economy and Labour Party MP, Chi Onwurah, proposed the following steps:

  1. Improved education

This involves raising awareness of technology and tech careers, correcting the negative impressions associated with women in tech. All around the world, some organizations have initiatives in secondary schools aimed at encouraging STEM careers for girls. For instance, GE Africa organized an event in Nigeria aimed at teaching girls to code.

  1. Business case aimed at increasing more women in tech

Here the government will work with corporate organizations, providing training and workshops to help them align their processes to accommodate more women in spite of being male dominated professions. They also deal with issues such as isolation and discrimination in the tech workplace.

  1. Creating positive narratives and promoting role models

In a bid to combat negative stereotypes, campaigns will promote women in tech in a positive light. For example, showcasing how it is possible to balance being a programmer and having a vibrant social life. The campaign will also teach parents to encourage their daughters if they exhibit interests in tech careers. A role model initiative will take place, where successful techpreneurs give talks and inspire aspiring students.

  1. Strengthening female networking and mentoring programs

Among tech professionals, there is a need for more productive conferences to offer women in tech a opportunities to extend their networks and grow career-wise. Similarly, both starters and experienced professionals need role models in their industry to look up to.

Notable women in tech, such as Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg and Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer, give many upcoming professionals something to aspire to.

  1. Access to funding

For women looking to startup their own tech businesses, a robust platform for funding is necessary. More venture capitalists and angel investors should support women-led companies and encourage others hoping to transit as techpreneurs in future.

These strategies cover all stages of development for women looking to succeed in tech. While it may not seem as easy as it sounds, it is definitely a recipe for success. With more awareness and participation from everybody, the whole world will benefit.

As Queen Rania of Jordan aptly put it, “When you educate a woman, you educate the family, but when you educate a girl, you educate the future.”