Two Ways to Put a Dent in the Women in Tech Gap

October 12, 2017

Employers Expand the Criteria, Women Focus on Skills
The second annual Harvey Nash Women in Technology Survey has just been released, and once again the most important takeaway is “We have to start early!” Early introductions to STEM/STEAM and strong STEM/STEAM education are powerful ways to foster a strong IT workforce according to this year’s survey takers, 69% of whom said the key to getting more women in tech is encouraging them to pursue technology in high school or college. That belief likely comes from experience. The survey found that 59% of men and 44% of women entered IT through a STEM track in college. As we look at younger years, the gap between men and women who are bitten by the IT bug in even earlier years grows. The survey found that almost half of men (44%) but only 26% of women become interested in technology in high school or earlier. The difference in early tech interest is also pronounced. Twice as many men as women (20% vs. 9%) reported their tech interest began in elementary school.

I am a big believer in getting kids, all kids, interested in the science, tech, engineering and math fields as early as possible. My STEM gift subscription, which sends an age-appropriate coding/ engineering/science themed toy to the children in my life each month, is testimony to my passion for early STEM exposure. In my work, I see the world of job opportunities open up widely and brightly to people with STEM degrees. I also meet with companies all around the world that are eager to hire talented women for their tech positions, but are stymied by the numbers. Reshma Saujani, founder of Girls Who Code, recently explained the challenging figures in this recent interview with CNN in which she shared how the number of open IT job opportunities in the country, 500,000, far outstrips the number of computer science graduates, which is only 40,000. And here’s the kicker in all of that: less than 20% of computer science grads are women.
For Employers Seeing Talent: One Answer to the Shortage of Grads
It’s very hard to change the number of women in computer science fields in the near term because there is a lack of applicants with computer science degrees. Organizations like Girls Who Code, Girl Develop It, Ladies Learning Code and many others are working to change the math, as are STEM/STEAM learning programs in schools across the country. The only problem? Time. We have the jobs now. The lesson for those of us in businesses that need a lot of IT talent today is that we have to look past the degree in order to bring women in now.
If a computer science degree is an on-the-job requirement, consider taking it off or, better yet, opening it up to other STEM and social science degrees. Look at candidates whose degrees might not scream tech but whose work experience includes technology. More and more jobs today require technology skills and more and more young people are getting them in various ways. As the survey shows, not all IT professionals–men or women–arrive in the tech field via computer science or STEM degrees. So I say, look for more outliers and focus on skills and experience versus degree.
For Women Interested in IT: Sharpen Skills & Increase Confidence
Another bonus of early exposure to technology revealed in the survey is confidence. The survey found that only 12% of female professionals who first became interested in IT in high school or earlier listed technical skills as an area of weakness. Women whose tech interest started after their first job were far less sure of their skills with 28% listing their technical skills as a weakness. Women who became interested earlier also rank themselves higher on confidence and delegation skills. While we as women cannot turn back the clock to middle school to search out more confident footing, we can take a lesson from those women in tech whose confidence is higher. If you have done something from childhood, you have more practice and experience. The more practice you have, the more confident you are. My advice to those feeling unsure of their skills is to stop worrying about your skills and put them into practice. Take on more opportunities to hone your skills in the workplace. Ask to shadow a colleague whose skills are sharp. Look for development opportunities in your workplace. Take a refresher class.
While it might not feel like it sometimes, more people than ever are recognizing that it has been hard for women to thrive in tech and many are rooting for you to succeed. The Harvey Nash Women in Tech Survey recorded a powerful change in the number of men who say an “unwelcoming environment to women and minorities” is one of the greatest challenges when it comes to working in IT. That number rose from 7% in 2016 to 13% in 2017. That’s an 85% increase in men recognizing a roadblock, which also means there is opportunity. Look for chances within your company and community to sharpen and add to your tech skills (and any other skills you feel could be limiting your growth, from communication to management). Practice and test your skills as much as you can and let increased competence fuel your confidence.