Women are less likely than men to go into STEM careers, but it’s not from a lack of initial interest or talent. Somewhere along the way, girls and women are turning in other directions, with the result that only about 18 percent of women earn degrees in computer science and 19 percent earn engineering degrees, according to the National Girls Collaborative Project.
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Further, while women make up 47 percent of the US workforce, the number of women holding high-tech jobs is abysmal. The challenge, according to the Department of Labor, is for women to “explore educational and training opportunities that will lead them to high-tech careers.”
This problem goes far beyond the simple exploration of training options for women, though. We must act to ensure that the tide turns in the right direction. Here’s what you can do to help, especially if you’re a woman already working in a technical field.
Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg made headlines once again when she announced her new mentoring initiative, designed to offer support and advising to women in computer science and engineering. Mentoring is not a new idea, and it can be effective at supporting positive life decisions; but, in this case, it doesn’t go far enough. If we really want to see more women in tech, we need to start mentoring women at a younger age. We need to encourage our daughters, nieces, sisters and friends. (Big Brothers and Sisters is also a great way to make a positive impact on young lives.) We need to demonstrate that tech is more than just a four-letter word. It can be a part of all our lives, and become a pursuit that’s not just “for the boys.”
How many women did you know who had a career in tech when you were growing up? It’s not that those women don’t exist. They do. But, because of the lower numbers of women in the industry, we don’t see them that often. If you are now one of those (almost mythical) women in tech, it’s your responsibility to talk about it.
As a woman in a tech job, you can often support education by developing intern positions within your department. Whether the student is in high school or college, you can offer exposure and training. Even if your female student interns don’t end up pursuing a tech career, you’ve still offered a potentially eye-opening experience, one that will hopefully stay with them.
If you’re wracking your brain, trying to figure out how to support more women in tech, it’s a pretty safe bet that you’re not the only one who has the same concern. Start a group of those who have similar interests. You can start by reaching out to other women in your tech company, and then branch out to other tech companies in the area — to support the initiatives your group develops.
As a group, you’ll have more impact than you would as individuals. You may also find that you can inspire change at a higher level, even supporting scholarships for young women pursuing tech careers and improving the environment for women in the tech workplace.
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