When I was a girl, my parents taught me that anything was possible for me (besides being a singer…). Yet the majority of women continue to believe that they cannot pursue a successful career in science, technology, engineering, and math (what we now affectionately call STEM). They are all too often intimidated by these classes at a young age and do not believe that they are good enough for it. The number of female researchers, software developers, and technology entrepreneurs is growing, but it is still too low – around 20%. My peers consistently tell me that they want to help change this situation.
However, when looking for technology professionals, they still receive more resumes from men than women. These statistics, along with having two daughters of my own, keep me busy thinking about what we should be doing to make girls know that technology is not only fun and rewarding, but it is for everyone – not just the boys. I had two special opportunities in the last few weeks to explore these questions with others who share my passion and concern.
My daughter and I were invited to speak at a Girls Power Tech event hosted by Cisco in Jerusalem. This group is focused on encouraging high school girls to get involved in STEM. I was very proud to see my own daughter, who is not only bright and confident but is already engaged with technology, mentoring other young girls.
This generation of digital natives is fortunate to have grown up so connected. Navigating smart phone apps, talking to Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa, and having the opportunity to develop software in school makes technology second nature to them. But they still need active encouragement from adults to know that careers in technology offer great opportunities and are easily available to them – it’s not just to a boys’ club.
We must find ways to consistently promote technology-oriented books, toys, and discussions with girls at a very young age. If we wait until they are teenagers, it may be too late. Adults start asking children as young as two years old what they want to be when they grow up. We will have missed a big opportunity to shape their opinions about what type of career is achievable if we don’t talk and expose them to technology at a very young age. We need to make it natural and obvious to them.
I also participated in a panel on the same topic at the annual International Women’s Forum Cornerstone Conference. I shared the stage with four extraordinary women on a panel titled “Women in Tech: Leading the Future.” The session was filled with insightful discussion and heated debates about how to drive cultural shifts and create more role models for young girls. Jackie Glenn, VP and Global Chief Diversity Officer at EMC, shared how she didn’t think technology was for her when she began her career, but now she has excelled to become a senior-level executive at one of the industry’s leading companies.
Ruth Polacheck was so passionate about making programming fun that she founded She Codes, an organization where girls can explore their interests in a safe, supportive community. Anya Eldan is Program Director at the Technological Incubators Program Office for the Israel Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor, serving as a role model for what is possible. Moderator Michal Divon, an anchor for i24 News, led the discussion which touched on the need for increased mentoring especially when women are early in their careers.
As a part of Cisco, I am privileged to work for a company that understands that diversity in the workforce leads to greater collaboration, ideas, and innovation. We have a large number of female executives and are always finding new ways to help young people grow their technology careers.
We recently launched Cisco IoT Pathfinder, a series of free training webinars designed for women, men, and students interested in expanding their skills for the growing IoT economy. Created in cooperation with Global Knowledge, an IoT Talent Consortium partner, IoT Pathfinder provided free training on cybersecurity, data and analytics, and cloud and fog to over 1,700 people. I’m encouraged that 77% of survey respondents said they want to pursue a career in IoT.
Looking back at all these activities, I cannot stop thinking, is that enough? Are we driving significant change, is it fast enough? There are so many organizations and groups who are very passionate, but are we too fragmented?
I believe that we need to do a better job in bringing all of these efforts closer together, so we can make a stronger impact. We also need to make it a leadership and boardroom initiative on a wider scale, and not leave it to women’s organizations alone. We can start small, bring all these initiatives under one web site, connect the dots, and leverage each other’s’ work. Or maybe there are better ways?
I would love to hear your suggestions.