Old Boys? Meet the New Girls!

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?

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  2. In the UK the Tech Partnership is launching the #mytechstory campaign to illustrate what happens to those who #choosetech and where they are now. If successful women in IT share their stories will more women consider an IT career? Our industry must tackle its gender pay gap and implicit bias to attract and retain brilliant women. And please we are women not girls.

    • Thanks for sharing #mytechstory campaign! You are the second person to comment on the title – it was meant to bring new meaning to the very old British expression “Old boys club”. Sorry if I offended – wasn’t intended!

  3. It’s definitely important to continue to have this conversation. Keeping quiet about these issues won’t make them go away! Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this.

  4. The jury is still out IMHO.
    I look for the power of the AND – when the day will come that we will all be known as CEOs, engineers; technologistsetc period.
    I was told in Feb 2015 that we may have to wait at least 2 generations in the future. Really?
    As for managing bias in the workplace, take a look at what Facebook is doing:


  5. Without sounding negative, I wait and see. Everyone is Leaned In not and we at Cisco are doing things to move the needle for change. But why do women continually feel compelled to point out the fact that if a women get s job that doesn’t mean a man loses? Granted this is NOT about winning or losing but this has happened to us for years. For every man who got a job a women hasn’t. So lets stop pointing that out like we are apologizing for it. In the end our different experiences and expertise are what we bring to the table which is the exponential value here.

  6. Love seeing Cisco continuing this conversation everywhere! It must be talked about to move people to change.

  7. Cisco are leading the way with many of these intiatives. in the UKI we are looking to extend the great work we do at Cisco as part of Connected Women out into our customers and partners. Spreading the word and examples of the activities that we do to encourage young girls and women into IT can only help improve the situation. Educating men is another step forward, however creating simple platforms for participation is proving positive… we have had over 1000 girls into Cisco Executive Briefing Centre in the past 2 years and will continue to inspire the next generation – both boys and girls – to understand the benefits of an equal gender workforce.

  8. Interesting take on the lack of women in tech.

  9. Inoffensive language would be a big help. Call women women, and men “men”, not boys and girls, for starters!