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Women in IT: 'The system is broken,' author warns

Katherine Noyes | July 26, 2012
As the first American woman to enter space, astronaut Sally Ride was nothing if not an inspiration to girls and women around the globe. Her death this week has provoked not just a deep sadness that she's gone, but also considerable reflection on the challenges and opportunities facing women in science and technology today, some 30 years after her first mission.

Examples of this are evident in the design of past products. For instance, when voice recognition was first becoming popular, the systems were calibrated to recognize male voices because only males were designing the products. Because of this, womens voices were unrecognized when they tried to use the various systems.

PCWorld: What do you think needs to happen in order for there to be a more balanced proportion of men and women in this area? Could it--and should it--ever be 50/50?

Purcell: Early exposure to math and science for young girls is essential. Young adults are inquisitive and may end up in STEM fields for a variety of reasons, but early, sustained exposure to these fields and encouragement would result in more informed women making more precise college decisions.

More than that, it would help young women understand that their gender shouldnt determine the career path they choose, that pursuing a STEM career doesnt make them any less feminine. Girls often fall off the STEM grid and we need to figure out how to keep them engaged and how to give them the exposure, guidance, encouragement, and resources they need, and that our male counterparts get.

In engineering only about 10 percent are women. Through encouragement, exposure to STEM, and support to young women, one day we may get to the 50 percent level.

PCWorld: What can women do to make their way easier on this career path?

Purcell: Read my book. Unlocking Your Brilliance specifically provides common hurdles that women face in a STEM career and suggests strategies to overcome those hurdles.

PCWorld: What should companies do to attract and retain more women?

Purcell: Offer mentoring programs. A mentor can make transitions into a new position or company smoother. Mentors can also be a long-lasting resource of information. Finding a mentor early can do wonders for the amount of satisfaction that anyone, male or female, finds on the job.

Also, it's important for a company to listen to its employees' needs and offer flexibility. At my company, we try to be as flexible as possible to everyones needs, not just women. I think having a fair workplace regardless of gender is also important.

PCWorld: Finally, it's not uncommon to hear the retort that no one should get special treatment or be treated differently at all by employers or peers simply because of something like their gender; some, in fact, would argue that that's just another form of discrimination. What's your answer to such charges?

Purcell: I would agree that no one should get special treatment and that everyone should be treated equally and fairly. This would include job responsibilities, following the rules, and flexibility. It would also include equal pay. Women are typically getting paid 20 percent less than their male counterparts. The system is broken and it needs to be fixed.

 

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