Pooja Chandrashekar, Founder and CEO of ProjectCSGIRLS
As our world becomes increasingly digitized, the demand for engineers has continued to grow. In fact, it’s projected that in five years, there will 1.4 million tech jobs available. But there is one number that is just beginning to change: the number of girls pursuing technology and computer science. Women make up 50% of the population, so why don’t we see engineering teams comprised of 50% women? Add the fact that over 80% of girls in elementary and middle school are interested in pursuing a STEM career and the statistic that only 14% of engineers are female becomes even more confusing.
So what causes girls to turn away from computing during the critical middle to high school period?
Why Girls Turn Away From Computing
Google “Computer Scientist”
Now count the number of images that show women making, building, and hacking. Then count the number of images that show men coding away at a computer screen, albeit with bright smiles. That should tell you something right away.
The takeaway is that there exists a misconception that the title “computer scientist” is intrinsically male. We can see evidence of this not only in Google Images, but in nearly all forms of media - movies, posters, talks, the Barbie “I Can Be a Computer Engineer” book that just got removed, you name it.
The negative stereotypes that surround technology and computing are prime driving forces in discouraging girls early on that engineering isn’t for them. The stereotype of a nerdy-looking guy sitting alone in front of a bright computer screen in a dark basement continues to exist. Younger girls have a difficult time identifying with this image and in many cases, it turns them off almost immediately.
Today, many companies are working in the right direction to change this stereotype. Take LabCandy for example. They’re glitzing up lab coats, goggles, and other lab gear to make it easier for girls to see themselves as scientists. Another great example is Goldieblox, the breakthrough toy company whose toys are helping inspire the next generation of engineers and scientists by getting girls building and thinking alongside Goldie.
Remember the last time you went to the toy store? Well think back to what you saw when you looked down aisles supposedly meant for girls. You probably saw pink, glittery, and sparkly toys, stuffed animals, and cooking sets - perhaps even the occasional science kit or two. As the iconic Goldieblox Superbowl commercial proclaimed, “Our Girls Deserve More.”
One of the biggest problems is the environment that many girls are brought up in - one that doesn’t emphasize the value of independent discovery and experimentation enough. We need to teach girls to be makers by handing them do-it-yourself kits and giving them space to experiment with different materials and design their own projects. This approach is also validated by Intel’s new report, “MakeHers: Engaging Girls and Women in Technology through Making, Creating, and Inventing.”
How Do We Fix This? Where Do We Start?
The Three-Pronged Approach: Home, School, and Work
The push to get more girls interested in tech and more women pursuing engineering careers needs to be a three-pronged one that incorporates home, school, and work.
A child’s earliest education begins in the home, in the environment she is raised in, and in the activities she engages in there. Simple things like building baking soda volcanoes together or asking questions about how objects around the house work are easy ways to arouse a child’s interest early on.
Incorporating technology education into schools is another critical element of encouraging more girls to pursue the technical fields. Most middle schools do not yet recognize the need, or have the funding for, computer science education. Even if technology classes cannot be started, science teachers should include coding in their curriculums. Working through the Code.org or codeacademy units are a fantastic way to teach students programming concepts in a way that is engaging, fun, and useful.
We also need to ensure that women have a strong community to whom they can turn to during work hours and that the environment does not promote discrimination or intimidation. Companies and organizations need to place a stronger focus on increasing diversity and fostering inclusion. The good news is that many of today’s tech behemoths are releasing diversity statistics, supporting organizations working to get more girls interested in tech, and offering benefits and perks appealing to women.
Female Role Models
Arguably one of the most important components of helping more girls see themselves as engineers and technologists is providing them with female role models whom they can look up to and learn from. Not all girls have parents whose parents are engineers and it becomes increasingly important for them to have mentors and role models in their field of interest as they age. It builds that can-do spirit inside of them and empowers them to follow in their role model’s footsteps.
There are several ways parents and teachers can provide girls with strong female role models. Introducing them to the stories and work of women such as Sheryl Sandberg, Marissa Mayer, and Jocelyn Goldfein are a great way to start. Schools can also bring in women working in local tech companies as guest speakers to assemblies, classrooms, or after-school clubs. This builds confidence and introduces them to the community of intelligent, motivated, and technical women that can also serve as a resource for them as they move into college and beyond. Examples of resources for finding female role models in your community include FabFems and Million Women Mentors.
Emphasizing Applicability, Connectivity, and Creativity
When teaching, it’s essential to show girls not only what technology is, but how it can be used. Girls have a natural tendency to want to help people, but they often don’t recognize that technology is such a powerful agent of social change. We need to show them how technology can be used to drive medical developments and positively affect global health, ward off cybersecurity attacks, and open new horizons for scientific research. They need to see how it can be applied and understand its impact. One way of doing this is by helping them understand how technology connects people and brings them together, making it possible for what one person does to positively impact thousands.
Many young girls perceive computer science as a dry, uncreative field so it’s important for us to emphasize its creative element. We need to encourage them to engineer solutions to everyday problems, problem-solve by thinking of creative goals and finding a path to accomplish them, and design innovations with social value. We need to teach them to powerful, innovative, and disruptive in their ideas.
Start Early, Inspire More: Middle School is Critical
In my own work, I’ve found that middle school is the time when a critical chunk of learning and development occurs and when girls are most prone to peer pressure and the influence of negative stereotypes. And so it is during this time when we need to ramp up our efforts to deter girls from being influenced by these stereotypes, increase their confidence about stepping into the technical fields, and pique their interest in STEM.
Bridging the tech gender gap is no simple or easy feat. It will require years of dedication, progress, and the combined efforts of individuals (both men and women), organizations, companies, and educators across the world. We have miles to go before we sleep, but we’re getting there. There’s no doubt about that.
Note from Global Tech Women:
Pooja Chandrashekar, Founder and CEO of ProjectCSGIRLS is also a member of Global Tech Leaders. To learn more about Pooja and other Global Tech Leaders or how you can join us, please vsit
By Dr. Bushra Anjum, Global Tech Leader
Gone are the days when teachers and doctors were considered the only “appropriate” professions for females, even in a relatively conservative land like Pakistan. Pakistan, my home land, my country, still faces the challenges of defining the boundaries of traditions and modernism, holding to one’s roots yet keeping abreast with the world. Still, slowly but surely the country is moving forward with women rights, roles and responsibilities, thanks to a relatively open media, an aggressive section of the civil society and increasing awareness of women rights (religious and societal).
Having both studied from and taught at the leading CS institutes in Pakistan, I can state that the percentage of women engineers, especially those in CS, is currently around 18% of the total student population. From the days when I was a student (2005) to today, there is a visible shift in female graduates’ preference to gain industry experience after finishing the degree. In 2005 hardly 10% of the female graduates actively sought an industry position, now, it is certainly over 65% and the trend is improving. Since this interest towards CS industry is relatively new, I don’t consider we are in a position to evaluate senior women/leader/board positions. We need to give it another generation to see how far they reach. However, a lot of data, both numbers and views, is available about female engineers’ recruitment, which I will be sharing in this blog report.
I interviewed and surveyed many tech companies in Pakistan, primarily in Lahore, which is considered the Silicon Valley of Pakistan. Below I am sharing some really interesting comments from recruitment teams, managers and female engineers. The names of the people and companies have been purposely removed. Further, this article does not promote a view X over a view Y. I hope this blog entry will start a healthy discussion amongst us. Only by understanding the situation, can we hope to improve it.
We start with the blunt yet honest views of a veteran company executive, “Do I think that females graduated in tech fields from good universities are less competent from their male counterparts? No! The competence is more or less equal, but the logistics and responsibility of taking on female employees is a lot more. You try to work with them and accommodate, train them, and then comes the big ‘mithai ka dabba’ (box of sweets) with an I-am-getting-married-and-it’s-time-for-me-to-get-on-with-my-real-life.”
This point of view makes me wonder, 60% of the new male graduates change their first job within 2 years. But their reasons are more materialistic: a better job offer, more opportunity of personal growth, an opportunity abroad, starting one’s own startup etc. I wonder if it is just the reason “I am leaving to raise a family” that generates the cynicism.
Another similar yet cautious point of view, “A disadvantage I have noticed is the long term commitment of female technical resources, often due to wedding timeline, that forces them to pursue their higher studies and gain some experience in between their graduation year and the year of wedding, usually 4-5 years for highly capable and skillful females. This potentially puts them off the radar of management to consider for more responsibility and future investment.”
Yes it is true that once female engineers leave the work force, they rarely return. It is also true that females, in our current society, usually do not have much influence on when they get married (it’s another debate why and how to change that), which results in random job leaving patterns. But what we need to understand is that these girls are not making these decisions as per their free will. These decisions are, for the most part, society dictated and we all are collectively responsible for them. The same managers, team leads, executives need to support their daughters to build their careers, should encourage their wives to return to the work force. And in the meanwhile, let them contribute to your company for these few years that they do have! Having the pre-conceived notion that they are not interested and will leave at any moment is, perhaps, stopping the managers from utilizing a high quality resource that can contribute more to their company in a few short years because of their drive to prove themselves in the limited amount of time they have. And certainly, on the flip side of the coin, young girls of Pakistani society need to understand that getting married is neither the ultimate goal nor the ultimate respectable achievement of one’s life.
Returning to our main topic of discussion, a manager at a leading software house, with 5 years of experience, shared these thoughts about empowering, employing and engaging women in the tech industry:
“I think it is much easier and productive to have a team from inception having a good gender mix than introducing it later. Honestly, if we introduce female team members later, the guys get distracted! They get distracted if the female is not doing well (the help the damsel in distress kicks in) and they get distracted if the female is doing well (the male ego kicks in). The work is stressful, do we need to add this extra layer of complexity? I wonder sometimes.”
I tend to agree with the thought that a team formed on the basis of diversity gets a much smoother sailing than one that has to be re-engineered by the unfreeze-change-freeze cycle. And the data that I have collected shows this trend. As can be seen in the table, the newer the company/startup is, the more female participation it entails.
However, existing companies must realize that the most compelling argument in favor of increasing the number of female employees in tech is not just about doing what’s ‘right’ – it’s an economic argument, and quite a powerful one, at that. There is overwhelming research pouring in (see reference links below) that teams do better when they are composed of people with the widest possible range of personalities. Being around people who are different from us makes us more creative, more diligent and harder-working.
Many managers consistently appreciated and recognized the soft skills of female engineers:
“To be honest, I prefer a good chunk of female engineers in the team. I have found them to be more responsible and conscientious in their assignments. Besides they keep the overall environment, somehow, stable.”
“Females usually are found to be more respectful and decent in their attitude, it adds up to build on top of their overall skill set.”
When asked various female tech employees to share their thoughts and experiences, we received some interesting inputs. Let’s start with the brief and globally accurate statement:
” I feel that people underestimate girls, not only in practical life but in educational life also in the computer science field”, says a fresh graduate software engineer.
About their involvement in the team dynamics and decision making process, a software engineer with 2 years of experience shares, “It was difficult at times to get my view on the solution to a project problem appreciated easily as I felt that the male colleagues were mostly the team leads in the organization and they would always make decisions themselves. There was little delegation of authority.”
I hear what she is saying. Indeed it so happens that they like you till you start talking, more specifically till you start questioning them in any way. As long as you are ok with the decisions and direction made by the male colleagues/managers/leads they are quite supportive of you. But if you make a suggestion or register your reservations with something, the shall-I-listen-to-a-female-and-be-mocked-the-rest-of-my-life attitude kicks in. You have to be very careful in which fights to pick.
An encouraging response came to the question on sexual harassment:
“Sexual harassment? Hmm no I don’t think I have faced anything that in the face. There is sexual objectification for sure, like the guys making up their minds on their own ‘oh she will not want this work’ or ‘oh she will not be able to go to this meeting’ etc but I have not felt harassed or physically unsafe at my job environment”, shares a software developer with three years of industry experience.
A female engineer with ample experience both in the industry and academia shares, “I'll not say ‘sexually harassed’ but yes objectified for sure. Just because I won't look and sound like most of the females there. I used to dress following the modern trends and never covered my head with dupatta, also my style of working was very different from the rest of the lot which made me an object of discussion in almost every group.”
And with objectification, comes unwanted attention, “One of my fellow colleagues started approaching me with un-necessary compliments. He was interested in having personal conversations. It became difficult to work after office hours as he used to choose that time for approaching. He was consistent and insistent even after I showed him my displeasure. The issue was immediately addressed by the higher management who is very strict and supportive in such matters.”
In my experience and research, male managers, team leads or higher ups are generally quite protective of their female team members and like to take them “under their wing” for the most part. It is, for the most part, culture driven. Most of the female engineers I talked to described the relationship with their boss/manager as healthy, friendly and yet professional.
Female engineers do get a slack as far as late sittings are concerned, I received consistent answers across the board: “One advantage I believe in is that they don't force me to work after office hours (9:00 AM-6:00 PM). And they also provide pick n drop service to females.”
“In some situations, I am allowed take a leave because of bad weather. I took half leave in critical political situation as well.”
“Females are mostly discouraged to do late sittings, so our leads take the responsibility of our work.”
“We are saved from the trouble of late sitting or visiting far places often unless proper arrangements are made. But this, on the hand, limits our exposure and opportunities.”
A dear friend, and a program manager for more than three years at a recent startup beautifully summed up her thoughts, “Both advantage and disadvantage of being a female in tech industry are connected and difficult at the same time. Advantage at one place becomes a disadvantage at another. E.g. it is a common belief that a woman can't be a good programmer. With such a belief it is difficult to gain trust and takes an effort to prove oneself. However, once proved, a woman is appreciated and envied a lot more at the same time. Moreover, position earned with effort is a lot appreciated by most, whereas, there is always a group who thinks it's a favor bestowed because of being a female. “
My final thoughts, why do I believe that we should have equal number of female employees in the tech industry? Yes I am a feminist, but it has nothing to do with it. Yes I support the cause of female financial independence, but it has nothing to do with it either. I believe that we must have equal number of female employees in any industry, especially tech industry because DIVERSITY MAKES US SMARTER! And for groups that value innovation and new ideas, like the tech industry, diversity is an absolute must!
References and further reading
They Will Pay to Freeze Your Eggs, But They Don’t Have Onsite Childcare. What Message is THIS Sending to Women in Tech?
By Deanna Kosaraju
Global Tech Women
Happy Ada Lovelace Day!
To celebrate the past, and honor Ada Lovelace, Global Tech Women will dedicate this post to the future of women in technology. What can we do to create a culture of technology that is exciting, inclusive, and puts the tools in the hands of people who can change their communities and impact the world?
We think Ada herself would agree. It's time for something new.
We will be talking about all of these ideas, featuring companies and people who exemplify the future of tech, and bringing the global community together at the upcoming Voices Conference the week of March 8th 2015. We hope you will add your voice to the global conversation! The deadline to submit an idea in November 17th.
By Deanna Kosaraju, Global Tech Women
We all watched in horror as a casual exchange between Microsoft Board Member, Maria Klawe and newly minted CEO Satya Nadella took a nasty turn. As someone who ran the Grace Hopper Celebration for Women in Computing from 2006 to 2011 and the conference founder for Grace Hopper India, this was a nightmare I never experienced, but I have seen this situation before. Satya Nadella was right...until he wasn't. Nadella, like many male tech CEOs believes that tech is in fact a meritocracy and if you just "work hard enough", you will be rewarded (i.e. Karma). Many of us women in tech used to believe that too -- until it wasn't. Many of us (me included) learned through a very painful process what the culture of tech really means if you are a woman.
At this very same conference, in 2007, a group of male executives were sitting behind closed doors in a private session run by a very savvy facilitator. She asked "Who in this room believes their company is a meritocracy?". All the hands went up. For the next several hours the concepts of unconscious and corporate bias were explained, the data was revealed -- about half of all women in tech leaving before they reach mid-level. One CTO stood up at the end and said, "My assumptions were wrong. I am going to do something about this." An advocate was born. He is still an outspoken proponent of women in technology working tirelessly to change the culture of tech.
Back to Nadella. He didn't have this "consciousness raising" moment. He didn't have the facilitator nor the support of his peers in a space where realization is powerful. He found this out yesterday, on stage, in front of 8000 women in tech and the broader global Community online. It was a painful moment to watch and a situation that took a potential advocate and shook him to his core. He was right...until he wasn't.
He was not alone at the Conference. The Male Allies panel faired hardly better where accusations of placing mens voices in a plenary at the expense of women hit Twitter. The CEO of GoDaddy who again, like Nadella, is put on stage without the badly needed process of listening and understanding BEFORE speaking, especially given GoDaddy's track record.
Advocates in positions of power, like Nadella, can help change the culture of tech. This Conference is a huge opportunity for advocates to listen to what women need and to work on the culture of technology globally TOGETHER to make it a reality.
You are invited to be part of these important conversations at our upcoming Voices Conference in March. I hope you will take part in discussing how all of us together can be the change necessary to make technology an innovative, exciting and inclusive culture no matter where you are in the world.
By guest blogger Jackie Farrow
The numbers of women making it to the top in technology industries make rather depressing reading. While (given the traditionally male-dominated nature of jobs like programming, game development and hardware design) statistics are improving, just four Fortune 100 technology companies are run by female CEO's. That's a slightly worse percentage than the pretty dire stats for the entire Fortune 1000 list. Here we'll look at what the issues are, focusing on one of the biggest sectors of the market; gaming.
The Gaming Market
Women, according to an Entertainment Software Association report, make up very nearly half of regular gamers in 2014. If games companies are going to be successful in targeting a market that's half women, they are going to have to put women in positions of power, both in terms of game development and in broader areas. So what are the challenges faced by women within the industry?
The growth of the gaming industry has been rapid and sustained, and one of the fastest expanding areas has been the online casino sector. It's easy to see why; sites like River Belle offer players the chance to experience the thrills of a night at the tables without leaving home. There are plenty of women's success stories in the online casino industry itself; Casino Life magazine published an inspiring interview with five women working at a senior level in Romania last year.
While there are plenty of women entering, and being successful in, the games industry, there is a continuing problem with online harassment. This is often aimed at female games developers who take any kind of stand against the sexism that's still a feature of many games. There can be no doubt that some young women are put off entering an industry that, on the surface, is becoming more and more appealing to all age groups and genders, by the regular abusive trolling of female game developers who speak out on sexism in the industry.
And there's a vicious circle working here; the fewer women there are in the tech industries, the fewer role models there are for young women to look up to and seek advice from. However, they are there, and however slow progress is, there must eventually come a tipping point. Teju Deshpande, co-founder of Mindcrest, works on technology designed for law firms. In an interview with ChicagoBusiness.com she remembered the advice given to her by a female mentor when she started as an electronic engineer: "She told me, 'It's OK to be tough. Spend the hours—it won't always be like this.' " We can only hope she's right.
It has been, is and still will be a long and rocky path for women in the industry and like many things changes take time. It is vital that young women are encouraged to follow their dream and are provided with any possible support in order to achieve their goal because giving up a dream is just not an option.
- Jackie Farrow is currently studying journalism and is a freelance writer.
(Image courtesy of Public Domain Pictures / Pixabay.com)
By Shreya Shankar, Global Tech Leader
College Station, TX
I like free shirts. I really do. Who doesn't?
The thought first struck me as I entered Rackspace HQ for my first hackathon, SOHacks. (Hackathons are competitions that last at least 24 hours, and you're expected to submit a project by the end. Your project could be a mobile app, website, or anything tech-related). Countless companies lined their own booths against the walls, giving away free shirts, stickers, food, and more. I got enough shirts to last me more than a week. It was pretty cool.
I didn't know what a hackathon was like before I attended SOHacks. I was, at first, apprehensive. I'm not the best coder. I haven't developed 15 apps like some of the other kids have. I was just a beginner. But after companies such as Google, LinkedIn, and Microsoft gave me free t-shirts, water bottles and stickers, I decided that maybe the hackathon wasn't going to be so bad.
As we all congregated in a large room to officially begin the hackathon, I couldn't help but notice that there were very few girls. Again, another instance where females were underrepresented. As I talked to a few of the girls, I realized that many of them hadn't taken a coding class or computer science course before. Disappointed, I began to start working with my team -- which (yay for us) had 3 girls -- to develop our projects.
I quickly realized that my limited experience with seamlessly integrating APIs with my work wouldn't get me anywhere. Hour after hour passed by as my friends and I bugged literally the entire Android advising team to help us. At around 3 in the morning, we realized that we needed to come up with another idea, and we hastily came up with a website and text-messaging platform as our product (with a half hour nap in there somewhere).
At the awards ceremony, I was happy to see that a few girls were part of teams that placed in the top 5. However, the majority of award winners (15 or so) were boys. I'm not hating on boys here (they created some AMAZING products), but I want to point out that we NEED more females in hackathons.
After all, free shirts are pretty awesome, right?
By: Shreya Shankar, Global Tech Leader
"OMG -- this is so cool! I can now make links to other pages!" she said while I was teaching her HTML.
A faint smile played on my lips as I felt somewhat satisfied -- satisfied that I could help create a positive experience for middle school students through my passion for computer science. I mean, I kind of wish someone taught ME computer science when I was 11 or 12. I used Google Sites to create a personal site for myself (I won't attach any links to avoid any embarrassment for my 12-year-old self), but using Google Sites is far from coding from scratch. I'm happy to see that more middle school kids can experience hands-on programming.
Now that I've actually been able to share my passion for computer science with just thirty kids, I've become addicted to the feeling of satisfaction I obtain from helping other students learn. Organizations such as Global Tech Women and the National Center for Women in Technology have inspired me to make a difference not just in my community, but the world. The spark lit up in my head a few months ago as I put the pieces together: I love computer science, there aren't enough girls in computer science, and summer vacation was (thankfully) arriving pretty soon.
Just like that, I decided to start Camp Sci Girl (http://www.campscigirl.org) to close the gender gap in technology. Did you know that in 2012, only about 12% of computer science bachelor's degrees were awarded to women? We've got to change this. I've recruited over 50 mentors and participants around the world (thanks, girls) and am super excited to pilot the program in a few weeks. Make sure to check out Camp Sci Girl's twitter (http://www.twitter.com/campscigirl) to follow how we're trying to close the gender gap in technology.
What are Camp Sci Girl's goals? First, I'd like to highlight the fact that Camp Sci Girl will not be anything like your average online summer school. Camp Sci Girl is trying to steer away from the dreadful stereotype of mundane summer classes that kids can take to get ahead. What we're trying to do is expose middle school girls to computer science. About 50% of female K-12 students think that computer science careers are "odd" for girls to pursue. Camp Sci Girl aims to convince girls that computer science is most definitely a viable high school, college and career path. My team of mentors and I aren't trying to cram in as much knowledge into our students as we can; we want to provide our students with a fun, new learning experience.
By the end of Camp Sci Girl, I hope that our girls will realize that computer science isn't just for boys. I think my entire year would be made if a student of mine emailed me that she wanted to take programming in high school or attend a hackathon. Because really, with every additional girl that considers computer science as an option, the large gender gap in technology closes.
Someday, 50% of computer science bachelor's degrees will be awarded to women. But for that to happen, we've got to step up our game and help introduce younger girls to computer science.