A powerhouse panel of the tech industry’s top women leaders discussed the small number of women in the field, touching on how and why tech businesses can benefit from more female employees.
The panel discussion, sponsored and officiated by CNET at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, featured Google vice president Marissa Mayer, Flickr founder Catarina Fake, editor-in-chief of CNET Reviews Lindsey Turrentine, and Cisco Systems chief technology officer Padmasree Warrior, discussing the challenges they face in a primarily male-dominated industry.
In 2009, only 12 percent of science, technology, engineering, and math jobs were held by women, showing a drastic gap between men and women in the tech industry. But as mobile technology becomes more and more integrated into our daily lives, devices are no longer the domain of tech-obsessed guys.
Women are an increasingly valuable body of consumers for the technology industry, and more female tech employees could build and market products to this sizable demographic. However, the disparity between who makes technology and who buys it only widens as women become a larger part of the market.
Women who create and market technology are uniquely poised to impact the industry, as women overwhelmingly make the purchasing decisions in most U.S. households. Catering to the needs and preferences of modern women may result in an even bigger boom for the tablet and smartphone markets in particular.
The pioneering panelists speculated on many reasons why they don’t have more female co-workers. Most felt there is still a lack of support for all students, especially girls, in the math and sciences arena, beginning at the grade-school level.
Mayer pointed out that while 200,000 high school students per year take the Advanced Placement calculus exam, only 14,000 take the computer science exam, perhaps because they’re unaware of employment opportunities in the industry. Increasing tech jobs’ visibility and bringing more people to the industry as a whole, she says, would result in a higher number of women.
Another significant challenge for women tech workers is not having role models. Fake spoke about social constraints that often prevent female employees from seeking after-hours advice from experienced male colleagues due to negative stereotyping, and vice-versa. “There is a barrier,” she said, and that barrier can sometimes prevent women from accessing the industry knowledge they need to ascend to top-tier positions.
Work-life balance also proves difficult for women in tech, as it does in most other industries.
Overall, however, the outlook is positive. Warrior feels there has been significant progress. “Two decades ago, even as I was entering the workforce, women were told they had to be tough in the tech world and have a thick skin,” she told The Huffington Post in October. “Now, we’re in an environment where you can be who you want to be.”
Warrior points out that the CEOs of both IBM and Hewlett-Packard are women, and believes that number will increase as the industry does.
Abundant opportunities should give hope and excitement for women considering a career in computer sciences and engineering, and the field is poised to welcome them with open arms.
“I always tell women that the fact that you’re different and that you’re noticed,” Warrior said, “because there are few of us in the tech industry, is something you can leverage as an advantage.”
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