Women and technology, part 2

I had the chance to deliver the opening keynote talk at the NG HealthCare US Summit two weeks ago. I was to fit a 20 minute talk between the salad and the entree at a dinner. The summit organizers said I could talk about whatever topic I wanted; I just had to be inspiring.

I titled my talk: “Our Future Workforce – Unlocking the Potential”. As I posed the problem in a recent post “Technology, where are all the women?,” I talked about the fact that not enough women are going into STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields. I have been particularly concerned with the drop in women entering computer related fields.

Why does this problem exist, what are some of the programs that are helping address it, and what can IT leaders do about it?

The IT leadership conference where I was speaking was about 75-80% men, so I thought there might be a risk with this angle on the future workforce. I am happy to say the talk was very well received.

Afterwards, men talked to me about their daughters – whether they are in college studying in a STEM field or in grade school interested in computers and robots. Women told me about their own career stories and their daughters.  And one of the vendors from a large technology firm described their extensive program to encourage women in STEM fields. It was all very encouraging.

One woman told me about her sixth grade daughter. She had chosen computer programming for an elective this semester. But after a few weeks, when the mother checked in to see how it was going, her daughter had switched electives to a community work project with her teacher instead. The mother thought that was a good thing too and didnt pursue it further. She told me that my talk had inspired her to find out why the switch away from computer programming. She suspected the class was focused on gaming and aimed at boys. I hope she finds out. And I do hope she continues to encourage a science interest in her daughter.

Im encouraged by the interest in science in my own extended family. I have 3 grand nieces and 3 grand nephews. They range in ages from 3 to 12. I buy a book for each of them for Christmas every year. As they grow, I keep up with their interests so I can buy the very best book for them.

This year, Im happy to learn that all three girls are interested in science.

The 6th grader wants to be a meteorologist. I have given her the National Geographic Kids Almanac every year. The 2015 version is on its way to her.

The 1st grader is reading well beyond her grade level and wanted a “chapter” book.  Her mom asked if I could find any books that would “plant the seeds for girls with math, science, and girl power stuff”.  I was delighted to hear this request. For chapter books, I found the Junie B. Jones series by Barbara Park – lot of girl power stories Im told! For science, I found a book called “Hello From 2030 – The Science of the Future and You” by Jan Paul Schutten.

The third girl is in kindergarten and wants to be a scientist. She is getting a different Junie B. Jones chapter book and the same “Hello From 2030” book as her first grade cousin.

And then theres my own granddaughter who just turned two. She is obsessed with robots, calling them “bobots”. I have to shop in the boys departments to find robot T-shirts for her. I have found a lot of robot toys, but most are for age 3 and up. But I did find a book that I hope will pique her interest for many years to come:  “Robots” from the TIME For Kids Explorers Series. It is full of pictures that shell enjoy looking at even if she doesnt fully understand them yet. I look forward to sitting with her and looking at the “bobot” pictures together.

If we need more women in the STEM fields, we have to start young and encourage one girl at a time. I am glad to see it happening in my family.

8 thoughts on “Women and technology, part 2

  1. Bill Maier on said:

    Thanks for the “Women in Technology” articles. I’m proud to tell you my eldest (of three) daughters holds a BSE from Michigan in Computer Science and is employed at ZF Lenksysteme in Northville, where she develops automotive computer-assisted steering systems. Her projects have ranged from Ford (Fusion) to Tesla, and she’s moving up the ranks in her fourth year there.
    Keep the encouragement going!
    Bill Maier, MiChart Integration

  2. Karthik Ramachandran on said:

    Great article Sue… I have a few nieces that I am trying to talk into a career in technology and computers… I think one of the biggest barriers is the lack of role models… Someone like yourself, a strong technology leader, probably needs to attend career days in middle schools… I think middle school is where the seed is firmly planted for a technology career… There is definitely going to be peer pressure against interests that are not “conventional” but mentorship and the ability to see a successful technology career woman will help overcome those barriers….

    • Sue Schade on said:

      Karthik, you said it well. Middle school is where girls interested in science start getting re-directed and more aware of social norms, peer pressure. Hope to be positive role model any chance I get!

  3. Sarah Danielson on said:

    Sue:

    Thanks for bringing attention to this vexing business issue, for which there are likely multiple contributing factors, which will likely require multiple solutions to address. It is easy to think of various educational and professional anecdotal stories, along with the sliding macro-statistics, and be disheartened. But I would like to highlight at least one solution I have learned about in time, that is essential to the success of both women and men, in school and at work, and that is, the importance of seeking, finding, and becoming supportive mentors and coaches to others trying to navigate their way through a challenging field, where confidence, persistence, creative problem solving, (and support!), are all required to survive and thrive. Maybe its the desire to find that elegant technical solution that keeps blossoming technical leaders from realizing the critical importance of the human-factors that contribute to success, or from continuing to seek until they’ve found the support they need? It is something we can all do something about.

    I have been enriched more than once through mentoring and coaching supports received, and by my involvement in efforts to give back, and yet know I have so much more to both learn and to teach. And parents, men and women, can’t find enough role models in their quest to figure out how to make work/life balance attainable. So to them I say–seek plenty of mentors, as more than likely you’ll need to borrow a tidbit or two from every one of them over time! At the last women-in-technology networking event I attended at my firm–I was so pleased to leave with a whole notebook full of the best tech-oriented twitter sites to follow; I also heard about some pretty cool predictive analytics things they were working on in the financial sector–and I was seemingly the senior leader who was prepared to offer advice to the young professional women in attendance. If professional women in technology only sought advice from senior women in technology, the advice pool unfortunately would be way too small today!

    No doubt you will be a great mentor to your granddaughter. Glad to hear you are speaking out within the industry as well, given its business importance and your unique perspective. To those outside our industry, working in tech, it is just too much fun to share with them how rewarding it is to work in the provider tech sector, so I gladly attend events for promising young women in technology, to encourage them to consider our field. I hope to keep learning something from every one of them. Thanks for the reminder and inspiration to keep getting on out there! I am hopeful for many others to help carry this charge forward as well.

    Sarah

    • Sue Schade on said:

      Sarah, you are inspiring me!!! Great insight and commentary. So good to see you too are finding time to advise and support others given how busy you are plus being a parent of young children. Thanks for what you do.

  4. Thanks for a great post. It’s motivating me to steer my daughter away from the princesses and fairies she is currently obsessed with!

    I’m curious to hear your thoughts on women seeking a mid-career change? It seems like too long of a wait for your grandchildren’s generation to fill the technology gap. Do you see a place for their moms in the workplace? If so, where is a good place to start?

    • Sue Schade on said:

      Brooke, Thanks for the feedback. I’m learning more about Sofia the First princess as I spend time with my two year old granddaughter. At least it’s a positive message that girls can do anything. On women seeking a mid-career change who want to get into technology – many options depending on previous experience and education. Best thing to do is talk to people you know who work in technology field in your area or network to get some introductions. Find out what kind of entry level positions there are and what training options may exist.

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