More Tech Companies Back Outreach for Women

Girls don’t know they can work in technology. That truth hit home when my youngest daughter graduated from elementary school. The principal read aloud each child’s aspirations as they walked across the small stage. For every girl in the class, technology was decidedly out of mind. Doctors, lawyers and teachers got the nod instead.

Girl in math classWhen asked about her future career, my daughter wasn’t sure what to say. She has written programs with MIT’s Scratch programming language and was the only girl on the robotics team during the school year. Still, she chose a future outside of technology.

Today’s women grew up in an age where STEM careers were generally thought to be the domain of men. Such tracks weren’t even considered by many of us and plenty still don’t realize that they can work in technology.

While change feels slow or sluggish, technology companies are paying attention to the data about women in tech. In June, General Electric sponsored a summer camp for girls, a week-long adventure called GE Girls, which showed participants what it’s like to be a real scientist. The hands-on experience helped ignite interest in STEM fields for girls who were mostly unaware of the opportunities available. They were quickly convinced tech careers were right for them. Sixth-grader Erin Colgrove, for example, decided computers and chemistry were in her future. “I love to build electronics, work with computers and experiment with science and chemistry,” she said. “I enjoy baking in the kitchen and seeing chemical reactions take place.”

Earlier this year, the BlackBerry Scholars Program opened applications for first year undergraduate women interested in mobile technology. BlackBerry created the program to increase the number of women studying and influencing tech’s future, and to encourage women to get involved in mobile technology. More than 500 students applied, and four-year scholarships will go to 10 participants. An internship with BlackBerry during the student’s third or fourth year is required, but all travel and living expenses will be paid for.

Facebook’s on this path, too. Saint Mary’s College in California received $25,000 from the company to set up a scholarship fund for young women interested in tech careers. The Facebook Women in Technology scholarship will provide $5,000 a year to women who want to study digital media. SMC hopes the opportunity will increase the number of female graduates who will work in technology, and also that it will lead to jobs at Facebook.

Meanwhile, the craft marketplace Etsy, is funding a summer learning program at Hacker School in Brooklyn. Etsy Hacker Grants fund an intensive full-time summer program for women who want to be better programmers. One reason for the effort may lie within Etsy’s own walls: It struggled itself with gender inequality until senior staff examined team dynamics and realized they were in desperate need of more diversity. Hacker School is an integral part of a two-year process deigned to quintuple the number of women programmers at Etsy.

In technology, women have a marketing problem, and it has to be addressed at the grass-roots level. These and other programs help young women get into the weeds, and discover the promise they might otherwise have never seen.

6 Responses to “More Tech Companies Back Outreach for Women”

  1. Dane Whitfield

    Huh? Women don’t know they can work in technology? Then why is my department run by a woman? All the little girls want to become doctors, lawyers, and teachers? Guess what? In those professions they all work with advanced technology. I fail to see your point. Oh, I get it. This is nothing more than anti-male rhetoric aimed at a field regarded as a male stronghold. I’m not interested in drinking the Kool-Aid today, sweetheart, but if you got some fresh java brewing, I’ll take a cup of that. BTW my daughter wants to be an artist. Maybe somebody should wake her up to the joys of administering networks. Ho hum, off to work I go.

  2. Dane, you lost me at “sweetheart”. Just keep in mind, there are plenty of nice men out there that women like just fine. If you’re getting hostility from a lot of women, you might want to take a look at your own communication and behavior. You might enjoy life a lot more if you did.

    For those of us in the real world, this is a big problem. I recently mentored a bright young high school student, female, who declared that she was interested in a technical field – computational linguistics – but when she found out she’d have to take several levels of math in college, she suddenly balked. This girl has plenty of aptitude for math, so ability is not the issue. She also likes reading about linguistics, which is a very logical field. But the idea of getting that far into math was apparently too intimidating.

    There are many reasons for it, but gender stereotyping is one of the biggest. Another is that many women just don’t relish working in an environment with few other women, and tech careers are perceived to be like that (in reality, there are plenty of women in the non-technical roles, like analysts, that interface with technical folks – something I wish more women understood). And the biggest obstacle may be the Silicon Valley workload myth. Out of the late 90’s internet boom we all got the idea that to be in tech you have to work 90 hours a week. Women are less willing sacrifice family, and so this perception drives many away before they even start. Companies that drive highly qualified tech employees like that – without a massive financial reward – don’t keep their employees.

  3. Oh boy, Dane…are you upset…not sure what really it’s about.

    Stereotyping in Tech Fields exists in adult tech schools as well. I am 50 and started my tech career in MCITP two years ago. When I interviewed the owner of the school to find out about what he had to offer, he suggested that instead of Systems Administration I pursue MOS, Microsoft Office Specialist. I had over 20 years experience using MSOffice products and wasn’t interested in pursuing something I already had expert skills using.

    I also felt a great resistance from other “male” students. Mostly because I don’t dress like a man who works in IT, “dock siders and a polo shirt.” I dress like a professional woman, heels and all.

    It reminds me of when I joined the military in 1986, it’s a boys club that most men resist women joining…but come to find out if a female has the logical brain to work in math, science, or technology then she should follow the logic…as Spock would say.

  4. “I also felt a great resistance from other “male” students. Mostly because I don’t dress like a man who works in IT, “dock siders and a polo shirt.” I dress like a professional woman, heels and all”

    I did that too until I had to reinstall a 210V charger and while doing so, noticed that I had a group watching me. I never realized that my skirt was too short for me to be on my knees under the unit. From then on it was pant suits……but when there was a company party no on recognized and I was told ” God, I didn’t know you had legs…we have never saw them…and they are nice”. A girl is a girl, is a girl…always

  5. Instead of lobbying the U.S. Congress to triple the number of H1-B visas in order to bring in more technical workers from foreign lands, perhaps the the nondefense, American tech companies, like Facebook, should have outreach programs to U.S. citizens. There are many unemployed high-tech workers in the U.S. Maybe the companies could offer scholarships to middle and older aged, unemployed, U.S. technical workers so that they could be retrained for the skills that those companies need. If they then hired the retrained workers, the companies could move the age and citizenship demographics of their workforces to more closely align with the demographics of the overall U.S. workforce. If they hired more U.S. citizens instead of relying on the H1-B visa program, the demand for U.S. high tech workers would increase and would lead to higher wages for all U.S. high tech workers. The increase in wages would attract more U.S. workers of all demographics, including women and minorities, into the high tech fields.

    As it is now, the women are the smart ones. Why should they chose high tech careers where the work is hard, where the wages and advancement opportunities are limited, and where they will face age discrimination later in their careers. Long term, it is wiser to get an MBA or to go to law school.

    • I have tried for eight years to get back into my field as Project Manager specializing in Instructional Design, Performance Management, and Technical Writing. I lost my job when I became ill. In the last eight years nothing much was done in training in any field. Now I am considered too old and too out of touch with the trends. I don’t know Visio (its only six years old),
      Captivate 3, 5, 7. I did all of my documents, out of my hear, without templates.
      I wish they would keep in mind that computers used to fill a room, and only seven companies had computers and internet in the 1970’s. Nothing is new…everything came in the 1870’s and has been improved since then; computers, cars, aircraft. You cant look to the future unless less you know where the history came from.