From the Women in Tech luncheon that RingCentral EVP of Innovation Kira Makagon facilitated to the keynote by Girls Who Code Founder and CEO Reshma Saujani, women in high tech was a key topic of discussion at ConnectCentral® 2018.
The percentage of women holding computer science jobs has been on the decline since 1995, when 37% were female. Today this number is down to just 25%, and that figure is projected to decline to 22% by 2025. Why is this happening, and why does it matter?
Girls Who Code Founder Saujani points to cultural norms and the fact that we’re not encouraging girls to pursue computer science as a career. Boys are raised from birth to be brave, take risks, deal with failure, and move forward, she stated. But girls are coddled, taught to be perfect, and not encouraged to explore math and science. RingCentral’s Makagon said having women in computer science careers matters not just for diversity and because it’s where the jobs are, but also because research points to companies performing better when women are a part of the management team.
The challenge for women in science
Saujani’s Girls Who Code has produced 90,000 graduates in seven years, and these girls major in computer science at a rate of 16 times the average. But today, she’s less worried about the pipeline of girls entering computer science programs and more focused on attrition once they declare computer science as a major. The University of Pennsylvania, for instance, reports that, before joining the National Center for Women and Information Technology’s Academic Alliance, its attrition rate for women in the computer science major was 13.6% compared with 2.5% for men.
Saujani points to the need for a cultural shift at universities—so women aren’t as isolated, plagued with insecurities, and subjected to microaggression. She speaks of being in the “2.0 phase now,” which moves beyond teaching girls to changing culture, so girls are encouraged and feel like they belong in the world of computer science.
Cultural change can be powerful—Saujani noted that in the 1970s, less than 10% of doctors and lawyers were women. But then came popular TV shows like Ally McBeal and Grey’s Anatomy, and today 50% of doctors and lawyers are women.
How to help
So how can any working man or woman help change high-tech culture to welcome more women? Three themes bubbled up from both Saujani and Makagon’s sessions:
Girls Who Code is one avenue for closing the gender gap in technology. But even being aware of the gender disparity is a first step in driving change. Next time you enter a conference room, look around and ask where the women are.