The gender gap in the disciplines of Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics (STEM) is more than apparent. For major tech companies, the gender gap results in bad press when female employees come forward to describe their negative work experiences. Those testimonies often tell a compelling story of discrimination and gender bias.
As a female web developer, this topic hits close to home. Being relatively new to the industry, the statistics and articles shock me while also inspiring me to be part of positive change. Here at Fifty&Fifty we work with many companies that are pursuing social change. And I think the first step in my own pursuit is to explore the significance of the gender gap. The next step is to ask: What can we as an agency or you – as a nonprofit, business or individual do about it?
First, let’s look at the data.
1.4 million computer-related jobs will be created by 2020
And here are some of the latest estimates:
[aesop_image imgwidth=”100%” img=”http://engagetheworld.co/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/stats.jpg” align=”center” lightbox=”off” captionposition=”center”]
Today, women are earning only ~30% of all computer-science degrees; in 1984, that number was 37%. At the same time, the U.S. Labor Department estimates that by 2020, there will be a growth of 1.4 million jobs in computer related fields. Despite making up about half of the overall workforce, only about 33% of the STEM positions are filled by women. What could explain the declining number of women in these fields?
Research suggests that girls may be less interested than boys in the fields of mathematics and science. The part of this that interests me is finding out why and how girls are losing interest in these areas. Studies have shown that in K-12 education girls and boys score similarly on tests in the two subjects. A 2009 National Girls Collaborative Project ranking showed that more girls took advanced biology, pre-calculus and algebra, while more boys took physics and an equal number took calculus. (An important note is that other key factors included racial/ethnic backgrounds and family income.) Here’s where it gets more interesting: women earn over 50% of all undergraduate degrees, but they remain underrepresented in STEM majors. This inevitably translates into less women filling positions in technology and engineering fields.
What does this mean & why should we care?
Working for a company like Fifty & Fifty has solidified my desire to do work for good causes. It’s more than just a job to us; it’s rewarding to lend our skills towards a greater cause aiming to solve some of today’s global issues. Along with those issues, I believe that the gender gap is something we should be working to solve. Instead of letting girls believe that they should be less interested in STEM studies, I think it is important to empower girls and women by providing them with the necessary tools to learn along with opportunities to succeed in these fields. Programs focused on educating young girls in the fields of STEM and even on-the-job training can help us close the gap. I was lucky to find great mentors and co-workers in my recent journey into web development.
I stumbled upon this great documentary teaser video (http://vimeo.com/104144890). They compare a company that first made airbags with companies today. The company’s attempt to save lives was disappointing because the first round of airbags killed a lot of women. As it turns out, the airbags were developed only for the average specs of the engineers on the team. Similarly, most nonprofit and for-profit companies have a very diverse customer base. This makes it good business to employ teams of all genders and ethnicities when building products that are not gender specific.
Another great takeaway from the video was the following quote:
[aesop_quote background=”#282828″ text=”#ffffff” width=”100%” align=”center” size=”2″ quote=”The greater the empathy you have with the people trying to use the product, the better the product is.” cite=”Mark Hedlund, VP of Engineering at Stripe” parallax=”off” direction=”left”]
I think that statement resonates with a lot of the companies we work with, and all businesses alike can benefit from taking it into consideration. We work with a variety of nonprofits, each with specific altruistic goals; recently we had a client call us out on the lack of females on our team. (Shout out to Amy at IF:Gathering!) Amy and the rest of the team were more than pleased to find out that since May, four females have joined our small company in both development and design. IF:Gathering is a nonprofit working to gather and equip women, so I understand their concern in partnering with an all-male or primarily-male agency. Even for companies that don’t specifically work towards empowering women, I would guess that women would usually be part of their target audience and target goals. Even if your company is well balanced with a diverse team, it’s important to consider the impact of the businesses you choose to partner with, and thus the impact on your customers. For example, if the company building your products or websites doesn’t have a diversity of voices inside, how will you be sure that they will be able to create a deep, positive connection with your audience?
What should you do?
So what am I saying? That you should work with us because we are an awesome company that empowers intelligent and talented people of all genders and ethnicities? Absolutely! But really… I want people to think about the gender gap and how it affects them. Everyday, we are becoming more and more dependent on and fascinated with what technology offers us. I hope that the tech industry will seek to reflect its wide customer base by working to narrow both the ethnic and gender gaps in the industry. I believe we can work together to find solutions to help balance these ratios in the workplace.
Oh, and here’s the CODE Documentary teaser for your enjoyment-
[aesop_video width=”960px” align=”center” src=”vimeo” id=”104144890″ loop=”on” autoplay=”on” controls=”on” viewstart=”on” viewend=”on”]