Girls still pick their careers like it’s 1990
Before the COVID-19 pandemic threw the world into the first female recession, women made up more than half the workforce in the United States. Women earn more college degrees than men and start more businesses than men but women don’t hold an equal share of tech jobs. In our work with nearly 20,000 thousand high school girls in the state, region, and nation, 90 percent tell us they don’t know a woman in tech. Since they can’t be what they can’t see, this means that these girls they don’t think a career in tech is for them.
Thanks to hardworking state and industry leaders, schools provide more exposure to tech skills than ever before. These same girls can scratch code, do basic programming, create websites, and build apps. Yet despite these skills that should leave them well prepared for a career in tech, they have no mentors or role models who can give a face to these jobs, cheer them in overcoming obstacles, or personalize the opportunities possible for them in these fields. They understand the skills, but they can’t picture themselves doing it.
These girls also don’t realize that at their core, all companies are tech companies. Retail requires e-commerce, AI, and virtual reality. Small businesses need social media algorithms and supply-chain automation. Building products requires rapid design, user experience, 3D printing, and manufacturing. Whether or not they set out to work in tech, it will be part of their career because it has a growing role in every company. But without a role model to show them what’s possible, they won’t see the possibilities of a tech-enabled path to their passion. They’ll be stuck pursuing their perception of what women do instead of seeing the opportunities waiting for them.
This maintained tradition is bad for everyone. Girls limit their earning potential, their social mobility, and their ability to provide for their family every time they subscribe to the myth that computers are a guy thing. Businesses suffer, too. Study after study shows that companies underperform financially when they have fewer women in leadership roles on their teams.They simply do not have the diversity of thought that can only be achieved with a team that includes both men and women.
Closing this gap and changing this landscape requires parents, professionals, companies, and leaders to come together to reshape the vision. Wherever you are on that list and whatever your personal sphere of influence, here are four things you can do:
Talk to your kids about what you do
No matter what industry you work in, help them understand how tech is part of your career. Invite family and friends to do the same. If you don’t work in tech, start conversations with your neighbors or friends who do, and help them start conversations with your kids about their jobs. Help students connect real people they know to the tech careers and tech-enabled careers they hear about in school.
Go to the schools
Volunteer to help students see how tech is being utilized in your company. Offer to visit a class, give a presentation, involve a school club in a company project, or bring employees for a day of service and mentoring. Seeing the people behind the careers they hear about will help them understand the opportunities available to them and be able to picture themselves in these roles.
Bring the schools to you
Invite a class to come to your workplace to see how tech is used in your organization and meet employees. Provide internships or opportunities to help with projects. High school students make great software testers and can help with QA. Give them opportunities to brush shoulders with a variety of people in your company, especially women in traditionally male-dominated roles.
Be a mentor
Seek formal and informal opportunities to mentor youth, especially if you are a woman in tech. Tell them about your career path, show them what you do, help them get a vision of the opportunities possible for them in tech careers, and answer their questions. These mentor interactions will have profound and long-lasting impacts on their career trajectories.
The future is full of opportunities for girls in tech and helping them realize and take these opportunities is essential to the success and growth of our entire community. Help them plant a vision of what’s possible in 2021.