Technology is used nearly everywhere and in almost all aspects of life, and while women are avid users of technology, they are significantly underrepresented in the workforce that creates and develops it. According to ComputerScience.org, “when computer technology first emerged during World War II and continuing into the 1960s, women made up most of the computing workforce. By 1970, however, women only accounted for 13.6% of bachelor’s in computer science graduates. In 1984, that number rose to 37%, but it has since declined to 18%.”
The National Center for Women in Technology shares that women account for much higher percentages in other degrees, earning 57% of overall bachelor’s degrees, 42% of math and statistics degrees and 40% of physical science degrees.
So why has the number of women earning Computer Science degrees dropped so much, and what are some potential solutions to improve the gender gap and increase the number of women working in the computer science field? QAD Business Systems Architect Principal Elizabeth Marion has been involved in a Southern California based organization, Technology Goddesses, working to answer this question and implement solutions.
Elizabeth shared that Technology Goddesses was founded in 2002 by Cora Cormody. Cora, an Independent Board Member and former Global Chief Information Officer (Jacobs Engineering and SAIC) who has worked in the technology field her entire career, saw that there were so few women colleagues. She decided to found the organization to encourage young women to study Computer Science and enter the field. Here are some of the challenges they are addressing.
Elizabeth explained that the perception of computer science is that a career in the field is narrowly focused to primarily programming roles. Programming jobs are good roles. However, there are also many additional types of jobs and career tracks available in the field.
Technology Goddess partners with the Girls Scouts to provide STEM camps and programs exposing young women to the technology field. Many of their campers start as young as preschool and stay with them through high school. The camps ignite and sustain interest in the computer science and technology field. Young women attending learn about the value of technology to themselves and society. The camps build a sense of belonging and build technical confidence. The young women also gain exposure and a deeper understanding of the richness, variety and fulfillment in computer technology careers.
Solution: Communication Tools
While Elizabeth did some programming at one time in her career, she has worked in many different roles and over the years has advanced to a principal architect with expertise in cybersecurity. She shared that the industry could do more to market the vast career options that are available beyond programming.
One organization that has created a helpful communication tool is the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Careers and Studies (NICCS). The Careers Pathway Tool is a visual and interactive approach to communicating the broad range of career options available. A viewer can click on any given job title and see the path into that role and the requirements you need. When a high school student involved with Technology Goddesses asked Elizabeth about careers in technology, and specifically cybersecurity, Elizabeth showed her the tool and the student could explore all the options the field had to offer. More engaging marketing of the many career opportunities in computer science and technology would help to overcome perceptions that are detracting girls from entering the field.
Challenge: Lack of Confidence
Elizabeth also talked about the imposter syndrome that many women in technology experience. Imposter syndrome is an internal experience where you question if you are qualified to be in your job and on the team with which you are working. Do you really know what you are doing? Are you truly capable of being where you are at in that role or situation? You feel like all these other people are going to see that you really aren’t qualified to be there. When in actual truth, many technology situations are challenging and most people when confronted with challenges don’t know the answers right away. That is part of the fun and what makes computer science such an interesting field. It is about solving problems that no one knows the answer. The field needs many diverse perspectives to adequately address problems and develop solutions.
Solution: Women in Technology Leadership Panels
Technology Goddesses has facilitated interviews and hosted panels with successful women leaders so young women are able to hear first-hand accounts of highly successful women technology leaders sharing their personal experiences in the industry. Hearing stories from a wide range of successful women about their own struggles and doubts helps young women understand their feelings are not so out of the ordinary. When the attendees hear that a top leader and industry role model has dealt with a similar challenge, it helps inspire them to not let their fears and doubts get in the way of taking risks and making advances in their careers.
Elizabeth has had the opportunity to connect personally with some of the girl scouts involved with Technology Goddesses and provided informal mentorship. One of the students, a highly accomplished high schooler, shared that she was feeling doubts about her capabilities. Hearing stories from other women helped her analyze those feelings more closely and gave her more confidence about her capabilities – she’s now excited to start college this fall with a new outlook. Having role models and mentors is extremely important to keep young women engaged in the field, providing encouragement and guidance navigating challenging experiences.
One of the senior girl scouts involved with Technology Goddesses created a YouTube video about women in Computer Science. The video is her Gold Award project which is the highest honor for senior girl scouts. We highly encourage you to watch her video, “Pink Collar Project”, which interweaves the history of women in computer science, the importance of women in computer science, and testimonials from women leaders in technology who share their experience and advice. It is highly informative and inspiring.