Recently, I was asked to speak at college and career night for a local high school about women in technology and leadership. I was thrilled to be tapped on the shoulder for this, as the topic is near and dear to me. I spent time gathering research, prepping, practicing and tailoring the presentation to engage a high school audience. And I’d love to tell you that it was a huge success and that I reached hundreds of young girls, but I can’t.
Unfortunately, the turnout for the event was less than stellar and the setup/logistics for the evening made it difficult to navigate between booths and classrooms. Not one student wandered into the room where I was presenting. Not one student wandered into hear the other four speakers in classrooms adjacent to me.
The next day, it occurred to me that this is part of the problem. This is why we have so few women in technology. Why we have so few women in leadership roles in technology. So few women even entering the field — it is not a priority for schools.
At the school system level, we need to be specifically targeting young girls to expose them to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). And this can’t be a “one size fits all” approach (because it’s not working). We need to be bringing mentors and role models forward, to the classrooms, so that girls can see themselves in those roles.
It is imperative that we continue to bring women into STEM. Over the next decade, tech skills will play an increasingly crucial role in the workforce. The U.S. Department of Labor estimates there will be more than 1.4 million computing-related job openings by 2025. Today, we have women computing grads that fill only one-third of all students in graduate computing programs.
It’s not just about being fair to women and making sure they have the same opportunities for tech jobs. It’s about what we’re trying to accomplish with technology — and how women are uniquely able to help us accomplish those things.
I’ll leave you with one of the specific examples I had planned to share as part of my presentation, articulating why the need for women is so great.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning will launch us into our next major revolution. If we don’t have women helping to write the algorithms, we are ensuring gender bias.
A quote from Helena Deus, director of disruptive technologies at Elsevier, pretty much sums up the problem:
“A warning to all of us, who love tech and would like our resumes to be evaluated fairly when we apply for jobs. If AI is being used to decide who is hired into technology roles and care is not taken to balance the dataset, it will be likely that the AI bot will reject your resume because it has learned that the gender is highly correlated with whether someone is hired into a tech role. Simple changes to the training set, such as removing any information that might denote gender, may allow for much fairer hiring practices.”