The Future of Women in Technology
Originally posted on Dialexa’s blog.
“If you could make computer science interesting to women, empower them so they feel that they can succeed, and then show them how their work can make a difference in the world, that’s almost enough to change everything.”
- Maria Klawe
When I first joined Dialexa in 2014 as a front-end developer, I was the only woman in an office of twenty men. Since starting, I’ve wondered more and more why there are so few women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) careers.
This collection of articles offers some theories about why women are vastly outnumbered by men in STEM careers, as well as encouraging ideas about what we can do to change that.
We can create engineering toys geared towards girls
Forbes reported that “most construction and engineering kits, which are touted as ‘technical and numerical toys,’ don’t include the storytelling that appeals to many girls.” Girls are often more interested in technical work when it’s placed in a larger context. One reason women study medicine in much higher numbers than engineering, even though both tracks are technical, might be because of medicine’s obvious social benefits to society. Goldie Blox is one such toy that hopes to show young girls how fun technology can be. Its CEO believes that “there are a million girls out there who are engineers. They just might not know it yet.”
We can rebrand "the geek"
CEO of website builder Moonfruit, Wendy Tan White, points out another reason girls are deterred from pursuing STEM fields: “The ‘geeky’ label is still attached to technology in schools, so it’s little wonder that students can be indifferent to the subject: it’s not presented in a way that’s appealing. There needs to be a greater focus on showing what technology allows you to do: cross geographical boundaries; make stuff; unleash your creative side; talk to friends and share your latest musical creation.” I’m hoping that as technology becomes more ubiquitous, being knowledgeable in STEM subjects will be more commonplace…and maybe even “cool”!
Tech companies can help create women engineers
Levo League, a career site for twenty-something-year-old women, is a startup that has a majority-female development team. Co-founder Caroline Ghosn says, “Sometimes it’s about being open to giving people opportunities to transition, to coach someone through a transition into development.” When I graduated college with degrees in Arts & Technology and Marketing, I was not expecting to get hired for a job that required programming skills. My boss went out on a limb and hired me for a designer/developer role, teaching me programming on the job. I’m forever grateful to him for taking the time to teach me. As Ghosn says, “When you create an environment where people feel open to taking on new challenges and they feel supported and mentored, they can really blossom.”
We can create that supportive environment
Unfortunately, many women with careers in the STEM fields have had experience dealing with ignorant men. Oftentimes, ignorance stems from an unsupportive company culture. Sexist remarks and jokes can indicate to women that they are not fully welcome. Fortunately, Katie Thomas of Hackbright Academy wrote a list of questions you can ask to see if a company is supportive of female engineers.
Women in technology can share more
In general, women are more likely than men to underestimate their abilities and feel under-qualified. But as a female in a STEM career, it’s especially important to recognize your value and worth - the next generation of female engineers depends on it: “According to a survey conducted by Elance, the greatest deterrent to getting more women in technology fields is a lack of female role models.” Whether it’s writing a blog, speaking at conferences, or mentoring, take a little time to find how you can become more visible for the next generation of females engineers!
Dialexa has grown rapidly since I first started, and I am proud to now work around many sharp, motivated, and fearless women. I feel fortunate to work at a technology company that supports the professional development of women. Because of this nurturing and collaborative environment, I have made leaps and bounds in my programming abilities and see a bright future for other women who want to pursue fulfilling careers in technology.