Technology, where are all the women?

I have been hesitant to talk about women’s issues here, but I’ve been encouraged to do so by many women colleagues. They tell me I have a platform, so use it!  Young women tell me that I, a female CIO, am a role model and that they want to learn from me.18Percent

I’ll be doing an opening dinner keynote talk soon at an invitation only health IT conference. I plan to talk about unlocking the potential of our future workforce. So, what does that mean? Among other steps, we need to encourage more women to pursue careers in technology.

Here are some troubling statistics and trends:

  • Today, only 18% of undergraduate computer and information science graduates are women; in 1984 they were 37% of CS grads.
  • Women in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) make up just 26% of the science workforce, up only slightly from 23% in 1990.
  • More specifically, women make up 27% of the workforce in computer related fields, a decline from over 30% back in 1990.
  • Women in technology earn 13% less than men. In all industries, women earn 22% less than equally qualified men.

When I first got into IT, it was a fast growing field that was easy to get into.

I remember my first programming course, I wanted to quit after a few days – I didn’t think I could do it. But I hung in there because I needed the opportunity and liked the structure and discipline of coding.

I’ve worked in health care IT ever since. I worked first as a programmer and then in an analyst role. In 1984, I moved into management. For five years in the late 80’s, I was the only woman on the IT management team.

I had two young children so I tried to be super manager and super mom – all things to all people. Fortunately I have an incredibly supportive husband who “got it”. But back then, most of my male colleagues at work didn’t “get it”.  It was not an easy work environment but I survived and succeeded.

Those days, my husband also worked in IT as a data center manager at a different company. As I moved up the ranks in management, my salary surpassed my husband’s – something that happens in many couples. My husband was not threatened by my success. We have always been a team.

Let’s fast forward to today, 2014. When I walk into rooms at CIO events, they are still predominantly male. It doesn’t matter if they are in the health care industry or all industries. I had that experience just last week at a Detroit area CIO conference. The morning keynote speaker was excellent and very dynamic. He talked about leadership. He put up a picture of 5 leaders as he made his introductory comments — all men. To his credit, he acknowledged that he didn’t have women leaders portrayed and should have.

So what do we do? It is going to take all of our collective efforts to develop the next generation of technology innovators and leaders. And we will need all of them, male and female. We need to encourage children to explore and enroll in STEM programs at all grade levels. And we need to pay special attention to girls so they feel comfortable in these fields. They need to be encouraged to develop these interests and skills at a young age. We have to combat sexist behaviors and cultures that exclude and discourage girls. We have to create work environments that encourage and support women.

I mentioned the troubling trends earlier. But I’ve also learned lately about some organizations and programs that give me hope. Here are some examples:

  • Girls Who Code – their programs work to inspire, educate, and equip girls with the computing skills to pursue 21st century opportunities.
  • – empowers underserved youth to learn, lead and create with technology, preparing them with skills essential for their academic and career success.
  • The technology firm Cisco has a “Women Rock IT Cisco TV Series” – you can hear from some “Rock’in” Cisco women who have challenged the stereotypes and turned their passion for technology into rewarding and successful careers.

Progress, but still much more work to do!

I would love to hear from you if you are willing to share your own story or if you know about other game changing organizations and programs that are addressing this issue.



10 thoughts on “Technology, where are all the women?

  1. We recently had our first child and my wife is really struggling with the career versus mom problem. It makes me wonder how much effect that has on this apparent equity issue.

    • Sue Schade on said:

      Patrick, unforutnatly it does. But women with equal qualifications and experience should be paid the same as men whether or not they’ve taken a break from workforce to raise children.

  2. Eleanor on said:

    I completed my undergraduate degree in 1982 with a major in both IT and Management. Unfortunately, my husband’s carreer superceded mine, and frequent moves didn’t allow my skills to be fully utilized. However, it certainly did engage our two children, both daughters, to embrace IT in their early years. Their abilities using IT has contnued throughout their lives at our household, which was one of those with the very early “personal computers”. I’m very proud of them, and although they are not “geeks”, they certainly are knowledgeable about the value of IT, which they know and use sucessfully in their respective businesses.

  3. I started as an RN, then went on to earn a Masters in Computer Science. Yes, at virtually every management meeting I was the only woman. When I rose in the organization and had global responsibility, I was still, most times, the only woman ” at the table”. One time I was not only the only woman, but the only American.

    Women are smart, we are competitive, but we also are really good at collaboration and working together. We need to encourage that side. “Feminine” is a good attribute in our work place. Let’s make STEM careers more open and “agreeable” to women. We really need “us” here.

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