Let’s stop talking about STEM
Information Technology is notorious for being one of the most male dominated sectors and has been since the field’s beginnings. Despite many attempts to attract more women into the technology world (for example, Apple and Facebook offer to freeze eggs for female employees, Microsoft supports girls aged 13 years and above to attend their DigiGirlz High Tech Camp program, and every year, Cisco participates in Girls in ICT day by inviting young females on our campuses to give them hands-on exposure to our latest technology), Silicon Valley’s tech giants are still struggling, as the numbers show.
Silicon Valley’s technology giants’ workplace demographics
Given that IT has grown into a $4T industry based on the central premise of selling engineering complexity to customers in the form of sophisticated hardware, software, networks and services, the attention of the industry is focussed on encouraging more young women to study STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). Fortune, Reuters, USA Today, and other media companies are full of stories about how organizations can push women into STEM industries – “Seven strategies for keeping in STEM fields”. The Obama Administration and U.K. Government are finally supporting programs to inspire more young people to study STEM such as “Your Life” – a three-year campaign to ensure young adults in the UK have the maths and science skills needed to succeed in the current competitive global economy. And as demonstrated above, many organizational efforts are focussed on the technical aspects of IT.
However, the IT landscape is currently witnessing an unprecedented transformation and the challenge is no longer just about getting more STEM representation into the sector. As Wood and co reported in Consumption Economics: The New Rules of Tech and B4B: How Technology and Big Data are Reinventing the Customer-Supplier Relationship, the technology world changed forever in 2008 due to 3 major market disruptive events: the global economy collapsed, cloud computing became popular and Apple released the iPhone. As a result, companies did not have as much money to spend on IT, cloud models entered the corporate mainstream from the previous consumer-only world, and line of business users took control and started to make their own IT decisions using personal mobile devices such as iPhones. Instead of complex technologies that customers had to integrated into their already complex IT environments, customers began asking IT companies to deliver business outcomes where the risk and the integration of the solution is owned and managed by the technology vendor. In short, IT decisions are becoming business decisions, made by business leaders, and not by IT departments.
So what does this mean for STEM? Today’s technology companies don’t just need STEM talent; they also need increasing business skills to enable them to make this transition. Line of business leaders (the current and future customers and partners of IT companies) are and will be much more gender-diverse: currently, females form around 48% of employees in developed countries and more women are heading to business schools than ever before. In addition to encouraging males and females addition to encouraging males and females into STEM careers (because technology companies still need engineering skills), we also need to be encouraging young students into business degrees so they can help technology companies to deliver business outcomes to their customers. Since fewer women study STEM than men, this will also help us to recruit more women into IT.
So let’s take our foot off the “STEM” gas pedal a little and let’s accelerate our “Business” gas pedal. The future is bright; the future is business outcomes.