Observations on how to increase the number of women in technology

As a marketing manager at HangIt, I attend many events based in NYC’s technology scene. At these informal gatherings, I meet a variety of interesting people such as developers, designers and entrepreneurs. However, one surprising element of these meetings I noticed is the lack of women in attendance. I can sometimes count the number women at these events on one hand.

It is no surprise the number of women in technology is significantly lower than the number of men. Simply look at the statistics. In 2013, women held 26% of computing jobs. Even in top technology companies like Google and Facebook, women hold less than 20% of technical roles.

The Roots of Inequality

Curious to discover the root of this inequity, I engaged in some external research. Some, such as Gene Marks, argue that the inequality does not exist by accident, but exists by choice. He writes, “the real reason [there are so fewer women in tech] is that most women clearly aren’t interested in technology-related work as men are. It’s a choice. And for whatever reasons, more women seem choose other fields” (Forbes). I wholeheartedly disagree with Mr. Marks statement. I think women are minorities in the tech field, not by choice, but by two factors: lack of interest from young girls and technology company culture.

Inspiring Young Girls

Adolescent girls do not have the same motivation to explore technology as their male counterparts do. While some say both genders have the ability to take advanced STEM courses in high school, I argue that taking an advanced placement class does necessarily motivate students to pursue the field. Girls need to have strong female role models in the technology industry. Where are the female Bill Gates’ and Mark Zuckerbergs ? Educators and parents need to highlight the female icons in technology and demonstrate their successes to young girls.

Additionally, young girls need exposure to the STEM fields outside the classroom, but perhaps a more creative approach will help pique their interest. Jewelbots, a programmable friendship bracelet, may be such an approach. Founded by Sara Chipps, Brooke Moreland and Maria Paula Saba, Jewelbots combine both function and fashion. Using Bluetooth and a smartphone app, girls can program their charms to light up when friends are near. The smartphone app serves as an entry point to the bracelet. If girls plug the charms into their computers, they can program it to do anything, such as light up when they have a new Instagram follower. Creative approaches such as Jewelbots, introduce girls to technology in way that is relevant to their lives. If girls can relate to technology, they are more likely to develop an interest in it.

Lastly, educators and parents should encourage and mentor girls who show even a small interest in the STEM fields. Girls may need extra support than boys to help them discredit hurtful stereotypes that claim girls are inferior at math and science. With the immense pressure to “fit in” during adolescent years, girls may need help finding a group of friends who supports their interest in technology.

An Uninviting Culture

If many more girls develop an interest in technology, we can more easily solve the problem of male-focused company culture in the technology field. Kieran Snyder of Fortune surveyed 716 women who left the technology industry to figure out their reasons. Women cited “…the lack of flexible work arrangements, the unsupportive work environment, or a salary that was inadequate to pay for childcare” (Fortune). As these women became mothers these problems were amplified. Additionally, about 25% of the women surveyed felt uncomfortable with their work environments since they were different in an otherwise homogenous setting. Therefore, if more young girls pursue careers in the STEM fields, companies will be forced to offer accommodations women need since a higher percentage of their employees will be female.

Proactive, not Reactive

For now, women in tech must thrive as minorities. Lori Cheek, Founder and CEO of Cheekd, a mobile dating app that makes missed connections obsolete, finds while women are beginning to make enormous strides in the technology and entrepreneurial world, men clearly dominate the field. In response, she has a small network of extra supportive women and embraces her status as female founder.

Moving forward, technology companies need to view adding females to their workforce as a proactive, rather than a reactive action. Gender diversity should not be an after thought. Companies should actively recruit talented young women and create positive work environments for both genders. With greater diversity, technology companies can find even more success.

 

 

About the Blogger: Laya Mallela is a full time student at Cornell University’s Dyson School, where she is pursuing a degree in Applied Economics and Management, with concentrations in marketing and finance. She has just completed her second year. As an intern at HangIt, Laya is excited to learn and explore the tech scene of NYC. She can be reached at laya.mallela@hangit.com