We should do what we can to encourage young women to explore careers in technology.
If you follow the news at all, you probably know there is an ongoing debate about the role of women in tech companies. By virtually any measure or standard, many tech jobs are filled with men. But it’s fair to ask: is this due to nature or tradition? Do we even need more women in tech?
You could say I’m biased, as the owner and principal of a web design and IT support firm (and now a custom T-shirt printing business), but I think we should do what we can to encourage young women to at least explore tech career possibilities. We don’t just owe it to our daughters and nieces, but also to ourselves.
Opening Career Pathways
To understand why, we should start by acknowledging that any field gets stronger when there are a variety of perspectives being heard. Technology touches every part of our lives. Isn’t it fair to suggest that we all might benefit if half the population had a slightly bigger input?
On a more practical level, technology-related positions are on the upswing. Preparing girls for the present and future economy is good for productivity. It means we can find and develop the people we need for the jobs of tomorrow. Ask any business owner or executive who’s had to recruit new talent, and they will tell you they would prefer a larger pool of candidates.
Many of today’s best tech jobs can be performed from home by anyone with the right skills. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a man or woman, if you like to stay up all night or need to raise kids. It only matters whether you can do the job or not. Working remotely is becoming part of a normal work atmosphere in the tech world, and a flexible schedule can be another added benefit.
The argument for tech as a growing career choice cuts the other way, too. That is, it’s difficult to get ahead in any business without being fluent in multiple forms of technology. I could use my own career as an illustration. I got started with a position in health information at a hospital. It was all paper—no computers—and even the fax machine was not welcome in the office because of HIPAA regulations. That led me to learn more about technology, and eventually to branch off and start my own business.
There are a lot of avenues that open up once you become proficient with different forms of hardware and software. Nowadays, with the Electronic Health Record (EHR), the health information field has turned into a technology career possibility: no paper, only computers. Hospitals now need developers, project managers, cybersecurity professionals, picture archiving specialists and graphic designers just for the EHR field.
Finally, increasing the proportion of women in technology represents a kind of progress. It was once unusual to see women going into fields like engineering, science or aviation. While they are still a minority in these professions, the gap is narrowing. That's good for the economy, our society and the cause of equality.
Easy Ways to Help
If you agree with me on most or all of these points, the question then becomes: how do we get more girls to pursue tech careers? Today, I want to point out a few easy ways you can help…
- Help create an awareness of tech as an opportunity industry. They say the first step towards solving any puzzle is correctly naming it and identifying the parameters. In this case, simply shining a light on the fact that there are so few women employed in tech-based positions could be critical to changing minds and practices.
Years ago, academics and business experts pointed out that we didn’t have as many women scientists, pilots, engineers and business owners as we should. That led to conscious efforts to reach out to girls who might have an interest in those fields. Now, decades later, we are reaping the rewards. Why couldn’t the same kind of approach work in the tech industry?
- Start or support organizations that develop tech talent. There are numerous nonprofits and alliances working to introduce young women to technology jobs and opportunities. Girls Who Code, one of my favorites, helps bridge the gap between students and tech jobs by funding learning sessions, providing access to computers and hosting regular activities.
As with all civic-minded groups, these organizations need donations and volunteers. They can be invited to schools or business meetings, and promoted in the media. Supporting them in any of these ways doesn’t have to be difficult, and if you can’t find a local group to help, you might even consider starting your own.
- Put girls in touch with tech mentors or role models. As human beings, we tend to model ourselves after others who have qualities we admire and some similarities in our backgrounds. In other words, we imitate what we see. It’s not surprising, then, that so many boys want to be soldiers or football stars, while girls tend to gravitate in other directions.
Until we have more female role models in the tech industry, that’s going to be a persistent problem. It’s hard for young people to see themselves becoming tech leaders when they don’t have a template for success to follow. You can help change that by bringing successful women in tech in as speakers, presenters or coaches. Let the girls in your circle of influence see that others have already forged the path they can follow for a great career.
Things Are Getting Better
This past year, I had the opportunity to present a number of panels at WordCamps, a gathering of WordPress (website-building software) web designers and developers. As you might expect, it was an event without a huge number of female attendees and organizers.
However, that’s not the same as saying there weren’t any women around. Besides myself, I saw more business owners and senior developers than ever before, and there were plenty of girls mixed in with the groups of students who showed up to learn. These were good signs for the future of my business.
Just as encouraging, the men at the event didn’t seem uncomfortable sharing their knowledge, or the spotlight, with their female colleagues. The WordPress community has always been welcoming and supportive to everyone. In fact, the lead developer for WordPress.org is a woman (and five men).
Times and attitudes have changed from when I first got into technology in the early ‘90s. Where I once sensed that some were threatened by the idea of women in tech, I now get the feeling the industry is (mostly) open to anyone who can contribute. There are still pockets of old-fashioned thinking here and there, but they are disappearing rapidly.
With all that in mind, I’m extremely hopeful that we’ll see more girls choosing tech as a viable career path in the coming years—and fewer discussions about who is capable of writing code, repairing hardware and even leading cutting-edge companies. I hope you’ll all join with me to keep the progress that’s been made moving in the right direction. iBi
Tammy Finch is a website designer, social media consultant and founder of Web Services, Inc. For more information, visit webservicesinc.net.