women powering technology series, part one

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Women Powering Business is pleased to introduce “Women Powering Technology,” a six-part series that takes a closer look at the lack of female representation in the IT industry. Topics in the series will include: What impact does the gender gap have on the IT industry overall? What’s the origin of the gender gap? How can tech companies attract and retain female talent? What are some barriers that women in tech face?

The Women Powering Technology series will feature female executives who will offer their insight and advice on this trend.

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-Kimberly Fahey, Vice President, Global Client Solutions at Randstad

 

 


Our first installment features Alisia Genzler, Vice President of Randstad Technologies.

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Alisia Genzler, Vice President, Randstad Technologies

KF: The gender gap in STEM fields is an ever-growing trend. Women have actually surpassed men in attaining bachelor’s and advanced degrees for the first time, according to the U.S. Census. Yet in IT, a gender gap persists. A recent article inThe Atlantic states that although 57 percent of undergraduate degree recipients were female in 2010, only 14 percent of the computer science degrees at major research universities were female. This number has actually fallen in recent years: In 1985, 37 percent of undergraduates’ degree recipients in computer science were women. By 2010 that fell to 18 percent, and at major research universities the number was 14 percent.  How does this lack of female representation in the education pipeline impact the IT industry?

 AG: Due to the ever-changing technology over the past few years, it is no surprise that some of the most sought after skills are in the areas of mobility, web development, security, software development, business analysis and project management. With the growing demand for these skills coupled with a static supply, attracting and keeping skilled individuals is increasingly difficult. That being said, there is definitely an untapped opportunity to expand and be competitive. With the lack of female representation in these fields, I see this negatively impacting our industry as a whole. I would argue from an economic standpoint that to compete with our competition abroad, we need unprecedented groups like women to play a greater role.

KF: The gender gap in STEM is persistent even in the classroom setting, with “the notion that math is a male skill,” according to Forbes. This idea that boys possess a more “innate STEM ability compared to girls” has been found to impact girls’ performance. Although studies have shown no difference in STEM ability, a large divide in competence starts as early as five, according to Huffington Post. One study found that by the spring of kindergarten, boys have a greater willingness to learn math concepts. By third grade, boys rate their own math competence higher than girls do, even though no differences in actual performance are found. How do these stereotypes have an impact on females and their willingness to explore STEM fields? Should closing the skills gap start in the school setting? Why?

AG: It is easy to create stereotypes when you have very few examples to “debunk” the myth. I feel that there is a severe lack of female role models in the STEM fields. With that deficit, it is expected for these gender stereotypes to crop up. I feel that young females are definitely affected by these stereotypes as early as grade school as they learn at an early age to be turned off by the subject. However, I do agree with the Huffington Post article that encouraging young females in STEM starts at home. Parents have the opportunity, as well as educators, to create a positive change. What many parents and educators may not realize is that it is the most subtle of comments or actions that can make the most profound impact on children, regardless of gender. So singling out a gender based on stereotypes is only hurting us in the long run.

KF: What about the IT industry itself? Recent stories in the media have talked about the “brogrammer” and “heavily-dominated male teams that lack female viewpoints, which contributes to the objectification of women.” So is the industry in need of a culture change in order to make it more friendly and inviting to women? Will making these culture changes make a positive impact on addressing the gender gap?

AG: I believe being homogenized could hinder our ability to be innovative. So, by increasing the number of women in jobs within the STEM fields it will help promote innovation at a time where we must be nimble.

KF: The tech industry is one of the fastest growing industries in the US, but the industry is struggling to attract female talent and leadership. According to a recent article in The Atlantic, while 57 percent of occupations in the workforce are held by women, in computing occupations that figure drops to 25 percent. Of chief information officer jobs (CIOs) at Fortune 250 companies, 20 percent were held by a woman in 2012. What can tech companies do to focus their efforts to attract and retain women in tech? 

AG: We have to get interest up. This can be done in several ways.  Promoting the financial benefits is one, but providing role models and showcasing other women and their stories is key. Women need to see more role models in this field. They need to understand how women in the field have gotten to where they are and how they accomplished it. Equally important is to have these women share the benefits of doing so.

KF: With the tech industry being such an economic engine that is rapidly shaping our society, a lack of diversity and female representation has a big impact on our society overall, including “fewer ideas, perspectives and pushback,” according to a recent NPR story. What are some other societal consequences of having a lack of women in tech?

AG: It could impact our competitiveness, our creativity, our innovation and overall, slow down our productivity. When you cut the population in half and encourage one half to get involved in STEM, you miss out on the whole other half of intelligence and possibilities.