Women And Technology: How More Role Models Could Foster Change

As James Brown might have said, the tech industry still appears to be “a man’s world.” According to the National Center for Women & Information Technology’s most recent survey, in 2013 a mere 26% of the of the tech work force was female (Dubow, 2012, p. 39). This statistic appears even more pitiful when considered in the context that today 70% of women are attending university and are statistically outperforming their male counterparts (Bureau of Labor, 2014). Yet despite this progress, women in the tech industry are regressing. Since 1984, the number of women earning degrees in computer science has dropped from 37% to just 18% (US Department of Education, 2012). Of the women who graduate and find a job in tech, almost 56% leave their employers midway through their careers (Dubow, 2012, p. 42).

Perhaps the most disheartening statistic about this dilemma is that Dow Jones released a study indicating that women VC’s were outperforming startups that were led only by men (Canning, 2012). Somehow this success is not correlating with an enhanced female presence in the tech industry. Women who do stay in the industry are doing as high-quality work or better than the men but are being paid less on average. Even worse, there is evidence showing a steady decline in the number of women graduating from college with degrees in computer science, which correlates to the number of women working in the tech industry.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, there are many factors causing this absence of diversity, and conversely, many possible solutions to the problem. One solution that would institute positive change would be to present young women with more role models within the tech industry. If girls are encouraged to pursue STEM fields in school and are exposed to the unique opportunities tech jobs can offer, the result would a more diverse workplace that would have the enhanced creativity and cooperation necessary to thrive.

My proposal for presenting these types of role models is the People In Tech (PIT) YouTube series. PIT would be biweekly, sixty-minute program that would educate the audience about men and women in the tech industry making a meaningful impact in the world. Specifically, the videos would articulate how these successful coders, programmers, engineers, and entrepreneurs found their beginnings, their opportunities, and their inspirations. By providing viewers with an inside look at how certain individuals, both men and women, got started in tech, there may be a positive ripple-effect that encourages others to do the same.

The ultimate goal of the PIT Youtube series is to educate a younger audience on the people making a difference in the tech workforce while demonstrating the abundance of work opportunities available with a computer science or STEM degree. Ideally the PIT series would invite many demographics to view its content; however, since the main issue at hand is the lack of women in the tech workforce, these videos would be primarily targeting a female audience. It is important to remember that women (and men) need role models, not just academically but professionally as well. Hearing people who have attained professional success talk about the obstacles they faced and describing their paths to success can be a powerful motivator and source of inspiration for those who are just starting out. Therefore, PIT will provide viewers with stories chronicling how professors, CEO’s and founders of tech companies got their start. The end goal of this series is to attract more women to computer science and STEM programs and to retain more women in the workplace once they find a job within those fields.

One of the main objectives in the PIT series is to promote a diverse mentorship group. It is pivotal that these videos not only broadcast messages of successful individuals of both genders, but also of different ethnic backgrounds. For example, one video could feature Reshma Saujani, the founder of Girls Who Code. Saujani is an Indian-American lawyer and politician who in the beginning of her political career decided she wanted to change professions. In a video interview on Makers.com, Saujani talks about how her parents were the source of her inspiration, why she unexpectedly changed careers, and how risk and failure made her want to start Girls Who Code. Shellye Archambeau is an African-American businesswoman who spent fifteen years at IBM working her way up the corporate ladder. She was the first African-American woman at IBM to be sent on international assignment. Today, she is the CEO of MetricStream, a Palo Alto-based company that provides governance, risk and compliance support to global corporations such as BP and Pfizer and also serves as a guest lecturer at her alma mater, The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

There are also potential role models working in the tech industry. Pop-culture can play two very important roles in diversifying the tech community. First, it can eliminate stereotypes of people working in computer science. The cliché description of a computer programmer is an awkward, nerdy guy who spends hours every day in front of a computer screen. Over the last decade, that stereotype has evolved into the modern day brogrammer. This satirical yet uncomfortably accurate label references men with a frat-house mentality who code with one hand while holding a beer in the other. Both schemas are not positive and do not accurately describe the many other populations who make up the tech landscape. These harmful stereotypes also have the effect of driving women away from the tech industry, and until the schemas change, the culture of the tech industry will not.

Therefore, the PIT series will include videos that promote celebrities who happen to code. Take for example, professional basketball player, Chris Bosh. There are many stereotypes that are applied to NBA players but “programmer” is usually not on from list. Bosh joined numerous computer science clubs in high school and attended Georgia Tech for one year before entering the NBA draft. While in Atlanta, Bosh studied graphic design and computer imaging and still has plans to finish that degree at some point in his life. He is a member of National Society of Black Engineers and the Dallas Association of Minority Engineers. In a piece that Bosh wrote for Wired magazine, the star power forward said:

I knew well before I was in the NBA that to feel secure with my future — our future, really — I would need to be able to manipulate those 1s and 0s. Luckily, having extremely geeky parents that were constantly testing gadgets and flashing mad AutoCAD skills helped push my hands towards a keyboard and learning to code when they weren’t palming a basketball or blocking an opponent’s shot (Bosh 2013).

Victoria’s Secret supermodel Lyndsey Scott is another example of a high-profile celebrity who looks nothing like the stereotypical programmer. When she isn’t on the runway, Scott is promoting her newest app “Code Made Cool.” This app—located in the Apple App Store—is targeted for young girls and introduces users to the basics of coding. In an interview with Daily Mail magazine, Scott explains why she promotes programming more than modeling. “It’s the sort of career [modeling] where you have absolutely no control, whereas you have complete control with programming, which I really appreciate” (London, 2014). Scott is trying to reach out to a younger audience and offer them a glimpse of what coding has to offer. Today more celebrities, companies and universities are trying to broadcast one clear message: anybody can code.

The PIT series, while aimed at a specific target audience, will hopefully be inclusive to all demographics that are interested in learning more about individuals making their mark in the tech industry. PIT will be very successful if it can parallel its marketing strategy to a company like Pixar. Pixar’s movies are intended for a younger audience, but they still contain enough content geared towards adults, which results in enjoyment for all viewers. The PIT series is aimed at girls between the ages of eleven to twenty three (roughly the time they see their first computer science class till the time when the graduate from college). However, this project will be unsuccessful if it is presented in a way that excludes other demographics. Men should be able to watch these videos and receive a better understanding of the problem at hand without feeling personally attacked. Parents should be able to watch the series and be encouraged enroll their children into computer science camps or a coding academy. The series will be successful if it encourages its viewers to explore programming. By changing the conversation, PIT can begin changing the culture of the tech world.

Another key component for PIT’s success is the necessity of a major tech company’s sponsorship. Messages tend to be more to be persuasive if they come from credible sources. Therefore, if the goal is encourage and recruit young women to join tech companies, why not have a major tech company deliver that request. A company that immediately comes to mind is Microsoft. According to Business Insider, Microsoft is the third-most valuable tech corporation in the world (behind Google and Apple) with a net worth of over $330 billion (Bort, 2014). The company owns the trademarks of Xbox, Bing, MSN, Windows, Nokia, Skype and many others. The company has the funding to find the right directors and writers, the access to contact individuals to get on the program, and a campaign already geared towards encouraging girls to code. Microsoft has already partnered with Girls Who Code, DigiGirlz Hi Tech Camp for girls, and Black Girls Code. Bing also released a feel-good add campaign in the end of 2013 celebrating “heroic women” of history and encouraging all women to be brave in 2014. This would be the perfect opportunity for Microsoft to expand upon that message, and continue to provide support and opportunity to young women interested in computer science and programming.

While Microsoft creates the PIT series, YouTube would be the perfect platform to broadcast the men and women highlighted in the programs. Statistically more people spend time on YouTube then almost any other website. According to the video-streaming website, almost 1 billion users visit YouTube every month (YouTube, 2014). YouTube is accessible through any computer, tablet and smartphone. More importantly, Nielsen has calculated that YouTube reaches more US adults between ages 18-34 than any cable network in the United States. Its accessibility and affordability make it extremely popular for creators and consumers alike. The target audience now consumes more of its media from computers and phones and is able to do so without having to pay membership fees. YouTube is an inclusive platform that encourages creativity and expression. Lastly, YouTube allows viewers to watch these programs at their own leisure. That flexibility affords people the freedom to watch a video as many times as they would like, whenever they would like. YouTube is the symbol of simplicity. All one has to do is search and click and voilà, the viewer is learning about the CEO of IBM, Ginni Rometty.

The absence of diversity in tech companies is a problem that must be addressed. Diversity breeds innovation. Technology is always changing and the world needs a diverse marketplace of ideas. The problem is that there is half of the population whose potential is being completely overlooked. The young women that PIT is reaching out to are the change the tech industry desperately needs. Hopefully PIT is the catalyst.

Works Cited
Bort, J. (May 29, 2014). The 20 Most Valuable Enterprise Tech Companies In The World. Retrieved from http://www.businessinsider.com/most-valuable-enterprise-tech-c companies-2014-5

Bosh, C. (October 31, 2013). Here’s Why You Should Learn Code. Retrieved from http://www.wired.com/2013/10/chris-bosh-why-everyone-should-learn-to-code

Canning, C.; Haque, M.; Wang, Y. (September, 2012). Women at the Wheel: Do Female Executives Drive Start-Up Success. Retrieved from http://www.dowjones.com/collateral/files/WomenPE

DuBow, W. (2011). NCWIT Scorecard: A report on the status of women in information technology. Retrieved from http://www.ncwit.org/sites/default/files/resources/scorecard2010

Hafner, K. (2012, April 2). Giving women the access code. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com

London, B. (April 1, 2014). Victoria’s Secret Girl Lyndsey Scott Reveals that she Prefers Coding to Catwalks. Retrieved from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2 593252/Victorias-Secret-girl-Lyndsey-Scott-reveals-prefers-coding-catwalks-ASOS- shoot.html

The Bureau of Labor. (April 22, 2014). College Enrollment and Work Activity of 2013 High School Graduates. Retrieved from http://www.bls.gov/news.release/hsgec.nr0.htm.

US Department of Education. (July 2012). Degrees in Computer and Information Sciences Conferred by Degree-Granting Institutions. Retrieved from http://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d12/tables/dt12_349.asp

YouTube Press Statistics. (Accessed December 16, 2014). No Title. Retrieved from                     https://www.youtube.com/yt/press/statistics.html

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