While women currently make up the majority of the workforce in management and professional occupations, they are significantly underrepresented within the technology sector.
Women held a mere 27 percent of computer and information systems management jobs and comprised 26 percent of the computer and mathematical workforce as of 2012.
These numbers are growing slowly, but companies seeking the enhanced innovation and problem-solving boost that results from diversity of thought are suffering in the meantime. It is imperative that today’s business leaders be proactive in encouraging young women interested in science, technology, engineering and mathematics to pursue careers in those fields, while simultaneously launching initiatives to cultivate and ultimately promote women already in the STEM workforce.
A sure-fire way to eliminate the nerd stigma among girls that math and science fields are only for boys and social outcasts is to prevent it from developing in the first place.
My daughter receives just as many physics lessons as fairy tales for bedtime stories. Identification and promotion of positive role models early on is key; for every princess in a tower that sparks the imagination, it’s vital to also inspire with successful real-world women who have impacted science and technology, from Marie Curie to Maryam Mirzakhani.
Look beyond the classroom …
While improvement of the math and science programs in our school systems is critical, the promotion of STEM fields must endure beyond the classroom.
In order to effectively equip young women with the interest and expertise necessary to embark on a career in technology, we should also strive to implement social and extracurricular activities in these areas that have been developed specifically for women. Such programs are springing up in local communities across the country, bringing together girls with similar interests, and enhancing their curiosity in technology.
For example, my company has sponsored Girls Do Hack at the Adler Planetarium, a wonderful event that challenges participants to find solutions to real-world problems.
… and into the workplace
Mentorship is another key element in encouraging young women to pursue higher education — and ultimately a career — in technology.
These kinds of invaluable relationships, however, should not end once that career has begun. Formalizing mentorship programs with female colleagues in more senior positions can help to cultivate engagement and empowerment among female employees, and inspire them to grow into leadership roles.
Corporate involvement in and support of organizations that provide these opportunities is a wonderful way to strengthen an initiative that can help a company improve recruitment and retention of such an integral portion of its workforce.
Today’s technology companies must find a way to encourage all talented individuals to engage in those fields that are vital for social development and economic growth. Technology business leaders should explore these and any other means to educate, recruit, cultivate and retain a gender-balanced workforce.
Admittedly, I struggle to offer an easy solution to this complex issue. In speaking with friends and colleagues with daughters in grade school, however, I do see increased emphasis being placed on science and math, and it is my sincerest hope that this implies a better outlook for the future. ●