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Maria Bartiromo Wants Women to Lead in Tech

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Maria Bartiromo, the namesake of CNBC’s “Closing Bell with Maria Bartiromo” and lead on the “Wall Street Journal Report with Maria Bartiromo,” has a few things to say about the potential of women in business. As a figurehead for many female professionals, Maria keeps business titans like Larry Summers and Jamie Dimon honest to Generation Y and beyond. The Levo League was honored to speak with Maria about where she believes the job growth opportunities are for young women today.

To the great credit of the state of women in business, a multitude of organizations and media outlets have cropped up in the past century dedicated to the art of mentorship and development. A central theme that’s been iterated and reiterated is this: improve your point of view, and you’ll gain the success in the business world that you seek.

It’s hard to evaluate the effectiveness of this type of support – though it’s easy to guess that it’s actually incredibly useful, considering the impressive steps women have made towards workplace parity since the League of Women Voters came about in 1920.

Maria Bartiromo has a different perspective: that the features of our personality that make us great women already make us great leaders, and that we should focus not so much on changing our perspectives as changing our skillsets. Levo spoke recently with Ms. Bartiromo on where growth opportunities exist for young women in business, and her answer was overwhelmingly positive.

“We are in a new normal today. Job creation that was happening 40 years ago isn’t what’s going to be happening in the next 40 years,” she said. “We have big disruptions in healthcare and in media-what technology is doing to both is disruptive, but it’s also positive.” Healthcare, energy, and education, she continued, are the industries in which the most potential exists.

There’s a clear common thread in the areas Maria believes are promising: technology runs through all of them. Many of the innovations that affect the future of job creation are related to technological advances, not only in consumer technology but also in healthcare, education, and energy. It’s easy to see how technology has improved healthcare-in the past decade, everything from the digitization of medical records to the devices that perform laparoscopic surgery has been pivotal to changing the way we think of both the scope and the cost of medical science. Education costs have decreased as access to digital tools has increased. And technological advances in energy are responsible for job creation everywhere from the Office of Energy Efficiency to the skilled workers on the ground in the wind and solar energy sectors.

It’s clear that technology, and thus the education requisite for careers in technology, has been and will continue to be a major driver in job creation in a variety of sectors. Yet looking at the areas in which women are actually attaining degrees of study, it’d be tough to guess where the majority of women pursuing bachelor’s degrees believe they’re going to be adding value in sectors that involve much depth of technical knowledge, understanding, and skill. While females made up nearly 10% of the engineering degrees conferred in the early 1980s, this number has fallen steadily to 5.4% in 2010. And while women initially showed a level of interest in computer science that grew alongside the rates of men, the percentage has been cyclical and much more highly dependent upon consumer sentiment towards tech companies.

Rather than fill the seats that require workers skilled in STEM, women have flocked to degrees in business. The NBER reports that the percentage of business degrees earned by women has been growing steadily since the 1970s- all the way from 9% in 1971 to 50% in 2001, according to the NBER. But is this the area where women have the greatest need for education? Both Sheryl Sandberg and Meg Whitman-two of Silicon Valley’s tried-and-true female superheroes-majored in Economics as undergraduates. As the industry becomes more competitive, however, technical skills and certification of those skills are already inescapable in the technical fields. And women have started to recognize that. When I asked Maria whether women were at a disadvantage in the world of technology, her impression was that a great turnaround is underfoot:

The CEO of HP is a woman. The COO of Twitter is a woman. The COO of Facebook is a woman. If you want women leadership, go to tech-that’s where they are. And Wall Street has been slow to follow suit. But women are, increasingly, gravitating towards science and engineering, because they recognize that that’s the future.

Maria pointed to Bloomberg’s move to help Cornell to build a technology campus in New York City as evidence of a movement that women are recognizing and responding to. “Women are infiltrating the technology space… People are recognizing that financial services isn’t going to be the job creators of the future.” And, as she points out, recognition of these opportunities is key. It’s time for well-educated women to bring their inclusive and diverse perspectives to the sectors where technology is most useful; where a business degree is not enough to gain access to an industry, women risk leaving men alone to judge the long-term impact of energy and healthcare. These are issues where there’s a bounty of highly educated and mobile females, and recognition of growth opportunities is the main barrier to job creation.

The most recent Recession has had an interesting and new effect: many women have headed back to graduate school-in fact, of women 16-24, there’s now a higher percentage in school than are in the labor force for the first time ever. Nearly half a million young women have dropped out of the labor force in the past two and a half years, and many of them have done so in order to pursue higher education rather than risk layoffs or continue a haggardly job search. In some ways, this represents proactivity on the part of the average woman. But the proof of the value of graduate school for many of these women will be in the pudding.

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