Where my girls (in tech) at?
Earlier this month one of our amazing developers, Kate Kinnear, was a special guest lecturer at CompCamp – a digital technology summer camp for teenagers in the Halifax area. This camp does amazing work and gets the youth of the region engaged in technology and thinking entrepreneurially - a mission we are behind 100%.
Kate’s experience at CompCamp was absolutely a positive one - and she noted that the teens at the camp were really on the ball. But when I asked her if there were any girls participating in the camp the answer was a bit disappointing, but not altogether surprising. There were no girls in her session.
Not surprising, considering these statistics:
- In 1984, the amount of women majoring in computer science at MIT was approximately equal to the number of men
- From 2002 through 2009, the female proportion of graduates from Computer Science Bachelor programs in Canada and USA declined from 19.4% to 11.3%
- Based on a UCLA study, the percentage of female college freshman who list computer science as a probable major is around 0.3%
What is happening here? Why are women sent running in the opposite direction of the information technology industry? Well, a lot of reasons, and no single reason in particular:
- Stereotypes (the dreaded “nerd factor”)
- Limitations of the educational system
- Tendencies of women to gravitate towards professions with a greater communication or creative components
- A perceived lack of female mentors or role models
Any or all of these might contribute to a young woman opting out of participation in the IT industry at a time when work-places are dying to get their hands on employees with tech skills. But I’m going to address the last item on that list, because the good news is that there are some women in tech that have been kicking serious ass lately and are great role models for young women. (Can I say “ass” on a company blog? Too late, I said it. Twice.) These are my two favorites (in no particular order):
If your eyes have been open and any of your screened devices plugged in, you’ve probably noticed that Marissa Mayer has been named as CEO of Yahoo. The 37-year-old former Google VP (and first female engineer Google ever hired) has an impressive education and background in technology, but there are lots of other interesting bits of trivia about Mayer: she loves fashion, she’s perfected her cupcake recipe, and she’s going to be a mom in October. She takes crap from no one and is unquestionably a role model for many women (myself included) – smart, savvy, stylish, and hugely successful - and she’s not the only one.
Another dominant player in the Silicon Valley tech scene is Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg who was recruited from Google by Mark Zuckerberg in 2008. In 2012 she became the 8th member (and first female member) of the Facebook board of directors, and was also named to Time Magazine’s annual list of Most Influential People. Her extreme success in business has made her an obvious choice for speaking engagements and given her a platform to reach out to young women and encourage them to participate. Educated, articulate, and honest (she has admitted to crying at work before), she represents many of the qualities that all leaders (male or female) strive for. Check out her Ted Talk – “Why we have too few women leaders” for a jolt of inspiration. (I recommend this video to everyone, everywhere – but especially young women starting out their careers. Spend 16 minutes of your life and soak in Sandberg’s wisdom.)
I love the fact that we’re seeing strong, capable and high-profile women like Mayer and Sandberg at the helm of some of the largest tech companies in the world. I also love the fact that they are outspoken about their roles as female leaders in a notoriously male-dominated field. For me, they affirm that my female colleagues and I can be tech-oriented, creative, and successful in an industry that’s often described as an old-boys’ club. Mayer and Sandberg also give me hope that with their increased visibility and prominence, the young women will be encouraged to take an interest, and participate in an industry that desperately needs them.