October 27, 2016 | Written by: Marie Wieck
Categorized: Women in Tech
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I grew up in the era of the feminist movement and Gloria Steinem. I went to an all-girls high school where every leadership role was held by a woman, and taking accelerated math and science didn’t stereotype you. It never even occurred to me to question whether I could succeed in a tech career, or that being a woman had any bearing. I became an engineer because I loved the idea of applying new technologies to solve problems.
Fast forward 25 years, and fewer women are pursuing technology as a career today than when I was young. In 1991, we reached an all-time high in the United States with 36 percent of computing jobs held by women. Today, the number has declined to 25 percent, and we see women abandoning technology careers at a much higher rate than men.
With digitization and the move to cognitive business, every industry is now a tech industry. We know teams with more women produce better results, better code, and drive move innovation through diversity of thought and ideas. Decreasing the gap of women in STEM is an economic imperative.
Why does this gap exist? Many studies have been done on why women are underrepresented and why they are leaving technology. Key issues include a lack of role models, unconscious bias in the workplace and the challenges of work-life integration.
Women can’t tackle these issues alone. I think the greatest opportunity for advancing women in STEM is to create a community of champions of both women and men who proudly support women in STEM.
Five Ways to Recognize a Syster
I just returned from the Grace Hopper Celebration, with more than 15,000 women in attendance. The sense of community was palpable, and it reminded me of the feeling I got from joining Systers, the Anita Borg Institute networking group for Women in Computing. While the original name came from the idea of women in “systems,” I like this definition of Systers: Swedish for sister, i.e. totally amazing female who will always be there for you no matter what.
Here’s how you might recognize another Syster supporting STEM women:
- She gives back by sponsoring and mentoring women and girls, inspiring them to be bold and pursue a STEM career.
- She breaks stereotypes by supporting and encouraging the use of new technology in education or business.
- She supports other women, helping with contacts, skills, an occasional pat on the back, and she ensures their collective voice is heard.
- She tackles the uncomfortable truths she may hear about how another woman is perceived, and either challenges the biases or shares the feedback with the woman so she can fix what she may not know about.
- She isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty, and she encourages others to do the same. Because markets and tech are moving so quickly, she tries new things and might call herself a maker, inventor, entrepreneur or problem solver, but she is already a STEM Champion.
Five Ways to Recognize a Male Ally
Support from other women is critical to the sense of community, but we can’t underestimate the importance of male allies. With men holding 75 percent of the tech roles, we can’t change culture and make progress until men support change too.
Throughout my career at IBM, I benefitted greatly from male colleagues who recognized my contributions, and ensured I was part of the conversation. I saw this same commitment from the men who participated in two NAFE conferences on Men as Allies.
Here’s how one recognizes a male ally:
- He asks, and doesn’t assume he knows what a woman wants in her career or her next assignment.
- He actively listens and acknowledges women’s contributions to the discussion, making sure her voice is heard.
- He provides straight talk by evaluating all team members based on results, and he is not afraid to give tough, specific feedback to women, so they can grow to their full potential.
- He takes risks and puts women into stretch assignments, team leader positions, and profit and loss roles, so she can develop key skills and be the visible role model others need.
- He looks for blind spots and challenges organizational thinking by looking for unconscious bias and calling it out.
It will take a community to raise the number of women in STEM. We need all our women, not just those in STEM, to act like Systers to encourage us and tell us the truth, and we need male allies who recognize the value women bring to the table and encourage them to be heard. Be part of the solution as a #STEMChampion.
Marie was recently recognized as the STEM Champion for Women and Girls by the National Association for Female Executives.