Jobs in the tech field can pay very well and labor with the specialized skill necessary to excel in the field are in high demand. Yet it’s a field where women are largely underrepresented: In the US, the number of women who graduate in computer science is between 10% and 20%.
These low numbers have nothing to do with abilities, it mainly seems to be a social issue that doesn’t just start when having to choose a college major: Young girls and women often don’t consider a career in technology and computer science because they are not exposed to computer science in school and the options and possibilities that are out there. By leaving them out of the tech equation from the start, a lot of great talent gets wasted. Schools have to stop thinking that girls are not interested in computers and coding.
A study from the University of Pennsylvania was examining why there are so few female college students in tech and why the number of women who drop out of computer science majors is disproportionally greater than that of men. The reason is as simple as it is sad: They are not prepared enough when starting college. Female students often enter college with an (actual or simply a perceived) inadequate background in computer science, which makes it harder from the start. Being a minority with not enough confidence and having to struggle in a male dominated field leads many female students to feel socially isolated; they lose interest and ultimately change their major.
Redesigning curriculums to accommodate different educational backgrounds while improving the collaboration and interaction between the students and the department would be a start to improve performance and confidence of female students.
But that’s not enough: Even at high school levels, the industry can tap the largely dormant potential by providing mentors, classes in coding and simply showing girls the financial and creative opportunities modern software engineering has to offer.
First adopters, last creators
I also have an encouraging tech-related surprise for you, though: Women are more proactive adopters of new types of tech. Women in the Western world do more things online than men: Surfing, texting, talking, skyping, and using their smart phone in general (smart phoning). They also make up the biggest category on social networking sites (except LinkedIn) and own the majority of Internet enabled devices such as e-readers or GPS. Ladies, we win, no matter how good the guy on the desk next to you is at playing Angry Birds. Actually, the heaviest users of the most successful and most popular technologies are women between their 40s and 60s.
Unfortunately many companies are ignorant to that change and have not yet realized that their marketing efforts are still heavily targeted towards men. A reason why the industry seems to focus on the wrong audience might be because of the lack of women in the industry and a fundamentally wrong perception of how times and technology have changed. Technology is consumed by women – maybe it’s time that it will be developed and marketed by women.
It takes three
And in case you’re waiting for a punch line (a la “to make a thing go right”), I have to disappoint you. Studies have shown that dynamics in a boardroom change once there at least three women present. If the board consists of at least 20% female members, operational performance and share prices of the company are usually higher.
Earlier this month, the Italian government passed a law requiring that by 2015, one third of board members of listed and state-owned companies are women. Boardrooms in the EU are currently made up of 14% women; in the US the number is slightly higher at 16%. Even though many executives realize that different backgrounds, expertise and education are important, many don’t seem to recognize the benefits of gender diversity.
Studies in the past decade have indicated that women are a bigger asset than men in some situations: in 2007 McKinsey’s “Women Matter” campaign found that companies with the most female directors on their boards delivered a higher return on both sales and equity. Whether this is due to a correlation of firms that are especially forward-thinking, judicious, and proactive, it’s not clear– though the idea that women are actually secretly better at business than men is a bit unsettling.
Women do, though, have a few categorical strengths isolated to our gender: we tend to be more efficient and careful with risks, better at addressing the concerns and needs of their customers and ultimately, and also have the secret super-power of knowing what women want to buy. In the US, 80% of purchasing decisions are made by women – which company can keep ignore getting women on (their) board?
Isabelle Mitchell is The Levo League’s consummate news addict and Midwestern Austria transplant.