Encouraging gender equality in technology is everyone’s job

The International Women’s Day is a great time to write about a topic that’s dear to my heart: How to encourage the next generation of women to work in technology.

As a dad with two teenagers – including a 13-year-old daughter – being a champion for diversity and promoting women in leadership roles is personal. This is more than just “the right thing to do.” It also creates significantly better business outcomes.

I know that better than anyone. I’m proud of the fact that some of the highest ranking leaders on my Global Field Operations team are women. Our General Manager of Latin America, SVP of North America existing customers, SVP of new customers in North America, and VP of Canada are all incredibly brilliant, high-performing women who are at the top of their businesses, and serve as role models for a stronger and more inclusive industry.

We’ve all read the studies. Companies who are gender-diverse and ethnically-diverse outperform those who aren’t. I believe that statistic will become even more substantial over the next 5, 10, 20 years.

Yet for all the progress we’ve made since the industrial revolution and the dot.com era, there’s still a huge gender disparity in the workspace. For every Sheryl Sandberg or Ariana Huffington that makes a crack in the glass-ceiling, there are too many women who are not able to progress their careers in the direction they want or deserve.

This is especially true in technology, which has the most to lose by ignoring the full potential of the female workforce. To be competitive in a fast-changing global marketplace, the tech industry needs to be as diverse as its consumers, it’s users – and yet it doesn’t.

Per a study by the National Center for Women and Information and Technology (NCWIT), in 2015 only 25 percent of the computing workforce were women and in 2014, only 17 percent of 2014 Computer and information Sciences bachelor’s degree recipients were women.

There’s already a widening skills gap in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields, particularly when it comes to women and minorities. In fact, I would go as far as to say that the diversity gap is the skills gap.

That’s a big problem, and not just for software companies like CA Technologies. Especially now, when lines are blurred as to what constitutes a technology company, and Silicon Valley organizations are competing with various industries to attract and retain the best technology talent. We’re all living in this thing called the app economy, where connected devices outnumber connected humans, and technology now touches or powers all facets of business and life. In other words, “software is eating the world.”

So what will our future look like if the next generation of developers, software engineers, data scientists, and business leaders don’t have the experience, skills or education necessary to fill those roles? It’s not pretty.

There are so many non-profits out there who doing something about this issue, including Girls Who Code, The Female Quotient, and the Anita Borg Institute aimed at diversity and inclusion in business and technology.

These are necessary and important initiatives; but if we really want to make a difference – if we want to protect our future business and intellectual leaders – we have to make sure that education, ongoing support, and new job paths are within reach.

I think we all know that innovation is a direct result of diversity and inclusion. Every business leader I meet with, whether they’re in the public and private sector, understands the issues. They understand the benefits of equality, diversity and inclusion, and they want to do something about it.

I don’t have a magic wand that can solve the gender disparity problem, but I do see a couple of ways that businesses, teachers and parents can make it easier for women to enter the tech industry:

  • Show the options available: I come from a long line of educators, and it’s been my experience that girls in high school and college don’t see a career path in technology because no one has shown them the possibilities. We need to get better at communicating different job roles and career paths. App developer or analyst? Code writer or cybersecurity expert? Video game design or chat room development? Taking the time to explain these jobs, how they translate into a profession that has upward mobility opportunities, what qualifications are needed and the compensation that they should expect (and demand!) will go a long way.
  • Address social pressure or gender stereotypes early on: Many schools still offer gender-specific activities, and it’s difficult for young women to show an interest in IT when it’s packaged for the consumption of their male peers. The NCWIT 2015 survey showed that fewer than a quarter (22 percent) of AP computer Science test-takers were female. Schools need to demonstrate that technology is accessible to all.
  • Explore alternative opportunities: If schools can’t offer suitable programs, look to businesses for internships, local government for after-school education programs, or look to women in the industry for inspiration. Find ways to partner your company with other businesses, schools and community organizations that focus on this issue. There are some great programs out there like Tech Girls Rock that we created with the Boys and Girls Clubs of America and the Guppy Tank App Challenge, which came out of our partnership with PENCIL. These are both aimed at inspiring interest in STEM-related fields for young women in underserved communities.

 

As we look to the future, smart companies will focus on solving human problems that drive business results. These are complex challenges that require teams of people with diverse cultures, experiences, ideas and approaches that can drive greater creativity, deliberation and insights.

At the end of the day, it’s up to all of us to be bolder in our actions to increase gender diversity in the workplace, and do what we can personally and professionally to overcome challenges that stand in the way of innovation. As our CEO Mike Gregoire put it at the recent World Economic Forum in Davos, “there should never be a barrier standing in the way of anyone’s potential.”


Adam is president, global field operations at CA Technologies where he leads a high-performance team…

Comments

  • Kristi Johnson-Smith

    Thanks for the post! No profession can reach its full potential without including a wide diversity of thoughts and ideas. Men as diversity partners is so important in creating change in this area. There is a leaky pipeline once women start their careers in tech due to workplace climate and unconscious bias. Let’s all be aware of the issues so we can move forward.

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