Is the dearth of women in technology really a problem? Do technology fields actually need more women? If it is a problem, what can we do?
Last week I attended RMCWIC and co-presented a birds of a feather session. Prior to presenting we researched answers to these questions. During the talk we asked the audience to brainstorm answers. The audience’s answers matched much of our research; we know why we need more women in computing and have ideas how to change it. However, it is a difficult and ingrained problem to solve.
Why do we need more women in technology?
- We are designing products for men and women; over 50% of individuals using software products today are women.
- Conflict and diversity is known to help problem solving.
- Women in technology now are paving the way for future women.
- Different domains and different projects might interest women more than men. Therefore, women will be more passionate and excited to solve these problems and develop this software.
- Computer science is a well paid and growing field. It is a great career for women who want to raise a family because of the opportunities for flex time and working from home.
- It is lonely for women already in technology.
- Women help group dynamics and lead to better chemistry and problem solving.
- Companies whose boards include at least one women are outperforming all-male boards by 26%. Guess which boards have the fewest percentage of women… information technology.
- If a group includes more women, its collective intelligence rises.
What can we change?
- Changing the image of technology. The technology professional of today is not a hacker.
- Social groups or mentoring to meet other women. Be involved. See that there are other women in technology.
- Appeal to the more feminine aspects of technology. For example, agile development closely aligns with the feminine qualities of communication and collaboration.
- We need to get girls excited about technology at an early age.
- Targeting video and engineering games for young girls. (This dollhouse is a great example of an engineering toy for girls.)
- Encourage children to research answers to their questions themselves. In any technology field you need to constantly learn. Learning how to learn and research will help you in any technology field.
- Teach computing earlier in school. In early computing classes focus on how computers can be used to create something, such as designing and animating a cartoon figure.
- Focus on the interdisciplinary aspects of technology.
- The need for technologists in new and different fields continues to grow. For example, programmers can have a significant impact on biology, especially genetic studies.
- Change the language that we use. We are professional women, not young girls.
- Change how we teach science and technology. Use examples that will appeal to both the masculine and feminine.
- Typical physics problems are very masculine: guns and cannons.
While it is a difficult problem to solve, there are some very concrete things that you and I can do today.
If you know a young girl, consider toys for her that would encourage engineering and problem solving. Encourage her to research and answer her own questions.
If you are an industry professional, consider mentoring young women or starting a women in technology meetup.
If you are a science or technology teacher, consider using examples in your classes that appeal to both the feminine and masculine. It is important for both girls and boys to see how technology can be used in different fields.