There has been a big emphasis over the last few years on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). Education initiatives are pushing STEM in elementary, middle, and high schools. With this emphasis we should see more young men and women entering college degree programs and careers in these fields. Will this push help to reverse the decline of women entering into the information technology field? Time will tell, but I have a few ideas for narrowing this gap.
According to a recent study by the National Center for Women In Technology, 57 percent of professional jobs in the US are held by women but only 26 percent of professional computing occupations were held by women. According to the same survey, only 18 percent of Computer Science and Information Science undergraduate degree recipients were women. The trend for women in technology appears to be getting worse and not better.
- Make computer programming a requirement for graduating from high school.
- Aggressively combat the stereotypes of computer scientists.
- Expose the creativity involved in advanced math and science.
Her premise is that if we demystify information technology by exposing young people, male and female, to areas such as programming then they will begin to understand that tech jobs can be rewarding. The tech industry needs to shed its “nerdy” image in order to be considered a viable option for young women. As Ms. Bisharat points out, programming can be poetry and it is very much a creative field.
Here are some things I have been thinking about to attract more young women to STEM and keep them interested enough to pursue a degree and a career in technology or engineering:
- Bring more girls in contact with technology professionals, even as early as elementary school.
- Create better marketing by the technology industry to attract more young women to the industry.
- Make math hip by highlighting top-of-the-line applications!
If we are successful in introducing young people to technology and information professionals, they will understand that these are the people that help bring new devices and applications to life. In turn, the professionals can help reinforce the notion that math and science are cool and they are not limited to one gender. Finally, we need to do a much better job of marketing the technology industry. We have the Beef Council, why not a technology council, complete with a tagline and a jingle and a captivating app? Come and join us and help us invent the future! All of these efforts could help narrow the current gender gap in technology jobs and help us to employ the talents of creative men AND women.
Do you have other ideas for attracting talented women into the technology field? What do you think are our biggest barriers? Let me know your thoughts.
Kelly Brown is an IT professional, adjunct faculty for the University of Oregon, and academic director of the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT topics that keep him up at night.