If you look at the numbers, the picture is bleak for women working in technology.
According to new research conducted by The Wall Street Journal, there is still a huge gender gap worldwide. Of the eight technology companies profiled, (ebay, Apple, LinkedIn, Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, Facebook, and Twitter) ebay leads the pack with only 24% of women in technology roles; Twitter trails with 10%.
Is the outlook really that bleak? Here’s a look at several promising initiatives aimed at closing the tech gender gap:
1. Starting early
We’ve finally realised that getting more women working in tech involves getting them interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and maths) at a young age. The UK-based organisation WISE (Women In Science and Engineering) has a mission to get 1 million more women in the UK STEM workforce. They offer programs designed to “boost the talent pool from classroom to boardroom” – including an initiative that gives teenage girls funding and support to launch their own science or tech-based businesses.
At Cisco we have a program called Girls Power Tech in support of International Girls in ICT Day, an initiative sponsored and supported by member states of the International Telecommunication Union, an agency of the United Nations, since 2010. Girls Power Tech is a global mentoring initiative which helps students learn about the opportunities that the technology sector holds and is fuelled by 1,000 Cisco employees who volunteer their time with 3,000 adolescent girls in more than 50 countries.
2. Challenging stereotypes
By now, you’ve probably heard about the hash tag #ILookLikeAnEngineer which aims to dispel myths about how women in STEM industries look. The campaign was started by Isis Wenger, a San Francisco-based software engineer who set out to show that appearance has no bearing on a person’s abilities or profession.
Women at Cisco heard her loud and clear. They’ve added their photos and voices to the chorus, demonstrating that tech leaders come in all shapes, sizes and – yes – genders. Check out #ILookLikeAnEngineer and #WeAreCisco on Twitter to see more posts from smart, skilled, engineers.
3. Jump starting tech careers
I recently had the pleasure of meeting Kathryn Parsons, multi-award winning entrepreneur and co-founder of London based tech start-up Decoded, which teaches people how to code in a day.
Notably, women make up more than half of Decoded’s staff – and the company is particularly keen on promoting the work of women in tech. As Parsons explains in a recent interview with Inspiring Fifty: “We’ve had hundreds of women at Decoded and it’s a real 50:50 split between both sexes. It’s been an incredible experience witnessing the empowering effect that acquiring digital skills has on women at Decoded. We really are in the midst of a revolution, which is also an opportunity to break down some of the traditional hierarchies that rarely put women at the top.”
4. Moving toward a meritocracy
I’m also starting to hear more and more anecdotal evidence that women in tech are being judged by their contributions instead of their gender.
This sentiment is echoed by Donna Selapa, director of a digital agency, in an article in the Guardian entitled, “The digital industry isn’t a boys club, it’s all about meritocracy.” She argues: “Anything tech and digitally focused tends to be pigeonholed as being a ‘boys’ club’ when, in my experience, it has been anything but. As a very young industry, digital, especially digital creative, has managed to forge itself from a blank canvas. It doesn’t face deeply ingrained and historical gender inequality like other more established career paths. I believe this gives talented women and men equal opportunity to shine.”
5. Crossing the final frontier
What will be the tipping point for women in tech? When men care as deeply about gender equality as women do.
In Time Magazine, writer Alyce Lomax nails it on the head when she writes, “The truth is, if women start gaining more ground in the workforce, it doesn’t mean men have to lose out. The zero sum game mentality, implying someone always has to lose — which has also permeated our marketplace, in more areas than this — has got to go. If we tackle issues like diversity, innovation, businesses with strong, robust strategies, and overall value creation should skyrocket.”
Old boys – meet the new girls!
What do you think? Are times changing, despite what statistics show?