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Battling gender bias in IT

Sharon Florentine | Nov. 4, 2016
You can’t aspire to be what you can’t see. To get more women into IT careers, girls and young women will need role models, mentors and public examples of success.

“One of the things we found is that education in the earliest years is critical,” April says. “If parents are aware of their tendencies [to steer girls away from technology], they can work to change it. They can introduce those options, talk about those careers.”

And at school, she says, “curriculum hasn’t evolved past very basic concepts, and digital natives aren’t being helped to understand the varying ways an IT career can fit in with their other skills.”

Even for women who know early on that a STEM career is right for them, the initial required coursework can be dry and tedious, says Diane Wood, co-founder and chief architect at AtScale, a developer of Hadoop solutions.

“I always loved math, problem solving, logic puzzles, so it was a natural progression for me and it was easy and fun for me,” Wood says. “That said, at UCLA in the 1980s, I remember sitting in huge lecture halls, with the other few women clustered together in the back, thinking how dry and boring the classes were. For me, I knew I had to power through, but it’s easy to see how this could be a major turn-off if you aren’t sure that’s where your passion and your interests lie.”

After college, Wood held a variety of positions at technology companies in areas like engineering, product evangelism, product management and marketing, and software optimization. She says her varied experience and interests have contributed to her success, but she knows firsthand how demoralizing the challenges and the dearth of female role models in IT can be.

“I’ve always taken it as a given that I’d face challenges and that I’d be treated differently because I’m a woman,” Wood says, but adds that there are other challenges for young people considering tech careers beyond the gender issues. “A friend’s daughter is in high school and is currently looking at career options, and she’s running into the perception that if you want to work in tech, you have to focus on one thing, instead of applying broad experience and interests.”

DrugDev’s Flathers agrees that there’s a perception of technology as a hyper-focused “cult” of skills and associated knowledge.

“Ten years ago in tech, you had to know everything from the hard-core, back-end technology stuff to the front-end, design-oriented aspects and excel at every aspect,” she says. “But now, we’re seeing a need for targeted skills and experience, much more like a trade. Wouldn’t it make more sense to teach technology, coding, software as a basic skill like writing or math? Teach everyone the basics, and then they can decide whether or not to pursue that further.”

A job, not a lifestyle


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