Inspiring Success

A blog from Creating IT Futures

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March 15, 2016

Women Can Excel in Technology

TonyaAt Creating IT Futures, we believe that a diverse workplace results in better ideas that move businesses forward. Getting a variety of women involved in information technology occupations is essential to growing the IT industry. Anecdotally, we hear that young women avoid computer science classes because technology seems foreign or boring. It’s also been a male-dominated industry, which makes it hard for young women to envision themselves in technology roles. To reverse the gender gap, we’re one of many groups working to make technology more accessible to women.

Women make up about 25 percent of the information technology workforce, according to the latest figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which is slightly more than the year before. Though it’s slow going, the industry is focused on ways to entice more women to join.

“We’re working to break the stereotype that a job in IT means you’re closed up in a dark room writing code,” said Cathy Alper, who heads CompTIA’s Advancing Women in IT Community.

Robotics, chemistry labs and web development classes give young women a chance to get hands-on with technology, especially if they’re taught by enthusiastic and relatable women.

“The most important thing is that they're not just listening to someone tell them that it's interesting, they're actually getting to do it themselves,” said Maria Klawe, a computer scientist, mathematician and president of Harvey Mudd College, a STEM-centric liberal arts college in Claremont, California.

When looking at computer courses, make sure they use a problem-solving approach to discuss theory and concepts, with lessons that are tied tightly to application demonstrations. We created a short webinar on tips for bringing diversity into high school computer classes last fall. /researching-solutions/it-futures-labs/stem-initiatives">View the webinar.

“Young women, as well as many young men, want to know what you can do with the things you learn in class, rather than just understand the concepts,” Klawe said.

“Women are really good at building relationships and tying things together at a higher level,” said Lori Berry, director of strategic technology for Great America Financial Services. She encourages women to enjoy technology by tying tech tools to their interests.

“My opinion is that we should help them make that tie,” Berry said. “If they’re interested in veterinary medicine or fashion, help them understand that the more they know about technology in that area, the farther they are going to go in that profession.”

Angelo Simao reads a lot of customer satisfaction surveys and can tell by the results that women bring a lot of valuable skills to the industry.

“Communication scores and customer satisfaction ratings are higher across the board with female techs,” said Simao, vice president of sales and client development at f2Onsite, an information technology services firm based in Dallas. The company provides skilled people and technology resources for businesses across the country. Women, he said, approach customers with more empathy. “They interact in a different way.” In the 20 years Simao’s worked in staffing, he’s seen a dramatic uptick in women working in information technology. That’s thanks in part to groups like the Women’s Audio Mission (WAM) and TechGirlz, which put technology in their hands.

“Technology offers tremendous opportunity for women,” said Tracey Welson-Rossman, who runs TechGirlz, a Philadelphia nonprofit where middle school girls explore technology through free, hands-on workshops. Welson-Rossman also sits on the board of Creating IT Futures.

“What’s really interesting to me is how many girls connect with being an engineer,” founder Terri Winston of San Francisco-based WAM, said. “We’ll ask, ‘Who’s going to be Beyoncé today?’ but instead they fight over being the engineer. They want to be in front of that huge console and a bajillion knobs and buttons and switches that they can be in control over.”

Both groups give middle school girls a boost of confidence at an important time, according to Welson-Rossman. Around ninth grade, young women start self-selecting their futures and drop out of math and science classes. To keep them interested, TechGirlz presents technology as a creative outlet and a path toward the future.

“That’s when the lightbulbs start going off,” Welson-Rossman said. “Technology is not just about coding or programming software. Technology is much, much broader than that.”

Coding-oriented jobs make up about 41% of all IT jobs, but the other 59% are in IT hardware and services. To help fill the entry-level jobs in that 59%, Creating IT Futures built IT-Ready which trains, certifies and places unemployed and underemployed people in IT careers.

Before finding IT-Ready, Shaleen Meyer was working what she called “odd jobs” in nannying and pizza delivery. She was able to apply her customer service experience with the technical skills she learned at IT-Ready in 2014 to secure a career as a technical support representative with the OurFamilyWizard® website.

ShaleenTonya McClenton enrolled in the IT-Ready program and learned the material to help her pass the ‪CompTIA‬ A+ exam‬‬‬‬. Now she’s a level 1 help line analyst for Regis Corporation (SmartStyle), combining her love of technology with beauty and cosmetology.

Tonya and Shaleen are just two of our female IT-Ready graduates who have found career success. Overall 83% of the certified female graduates from IT-Ready find long-term employment in IT. Next month our first women-only IT-Ready class starts training in Minneapolis. You can see a new video about women who have graduated from our IT-Ready program in Minneapolis at https://youtu.be/quxiFtILERg.