Many people are drawn to careers in technology where they can shape our future by developing innovations. Unless you happen to be a woman.
On a recent broadcast of SAP’s Game-Changing Women Radio – “Women in Technology: Decoding Diversity in Silicon Valley and Beyond,” four people who beat the odds to create accomplished tech careers talked about what challenges await women in the field today, and how we can improve their chances of success.
Believe in yourself
According to host Bonnie D. Graham, women earn only 18 percent of undergraduate degrees and less than 4 percent of doctorates in computer science and engineering. What’s more, in 2012 women filled only 25 percent of jobs in technology fields, and held just one-fifth of Fortune 250 CIO positions.
Rathna Kedilaya, Head of the SAP Financial Services, Healthcare and Utilities Practices at Tata Consultancy Services, was surprised by these numbers, given all of the women pioneers in computer programming in the last century, but she remained optimistic.
“It’s really a surprising status, because especially in the past, women were very much responsible for pioneering computer programming and it’s really sad to see their status dropping,” she said. “Despite all the challenges we women face, if we believe that we can achieve great things on par or even better than our male colleagues, we can break the glass ceiling. We have a lot of women leaders today like Indra Nooyi, Hillary Clinton and Carly Fiorina who have actually proven that to us.”
Sarah Allen, founder and Program Director of Bridge Foundry said that workplace transformation is needed to stop the exodus of two-thirds of women with a computer science degree from the field within a few years of graduating. Bridge Foundry is a non-profit organization offering free technology learning programs to underserved populations nationwide.
“I repeatedly hear these stories of very difficult work environments for women,” said Allen. “We need men to realize…that in order to get the talent and keep the talent, we need to transform our workplaces, and how we treat each other with respect and how we acknowledge work, and how we amplify diverse voices…I think we can absolutely change the flood of women leaving the workplace by finding those workplaces where women are able to do amazing work.”
In addition to established companies, startups have an important role fostering workplace diversity from day one. “It is absolutely a success criteria to have a diverse founding team in all respects,” said Allen. “They’re bringing their whole networks, they’re bringing their perspective and friends and families…to your startup. You want to have this broad network as humanly possible for your company to be the most successful.”
According to Allen, creativity thrives in diverse groups of people. “We need the imagination, the inspiration of women and men and older people and younger people and people of all races and all backgrounds and all classes or we’re not going to secure that [creativity].”
Showcase accomplishments, not gender
Somewhat paradoxically, diversity also includes moving beyond gender-based discussions. According to Nicole McCabe, Senior Director of Global Diversity and Inclusion at SAP, focusing on someone’s achievements based on their gender can prevent women from getting the recognition they deserve.
“I really think you need to…move away from just talking about people as women to talking about their accomplishments, and talking about their expertise and their skills, and not always about the challenge,” said McCabe. “I think sometimes it gets negated when we talk about the fact that she is a woman – that takes away from her accomplishments.”
The technology industry’s future depends on drawing from the largest pool of creative talent, making diversity a number one priority. Welcoming women into the workplace is a shared responsibility for every senior decision-maker, hiring manager and employee. Change isn’t easy but like every groundbreaking innovation the rewards are epic.
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