International Women’s Day has been an opportunity to celebrate women’s contributions since the early 20th century. Celebrated around the world, this day is an occasion to acknowledge women’s achievements in economic, political, and social spheres. Although less recognized in the United States, we’d like to take this opportunity to pay homage to women in technology.
Recruiting in technology fields for over a decade has led me to admire and appreciate those women who have paved the way and those that continue to clear the path for the next generation. As other industries and academic fields continue to make headway in providing opportunities for women, STEM fields (involving science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) traditionally and notoriously have not.
Through the 1900s, most U.S. colleges and universities that welcomed women encouraged them to major in such areas as education, home economics, social work, and nursing. By the 1940s, only 12% of women finished college; most dropping out to get married. From this perspective, the journey that women have taken over the past century is impressive as we continue to work toward equality.
STEM fields, in the 21st century, have posed a unique challenge since these areas of study are still traditionally considered to be better suited for men. Females have historically been told that they are biologically inferior to men in mathematics, and that has continued to this day. However, research suggests that any such industry gender gap is more apt to be caused by gender bias than biology. (Emancipated countries such as Sweden and Norway had almost no gap in math testing.)
Unfortunately, this prejudice still affects employers. In a 2008 study, researchers at Northwestern University teamed up with Columbia Business School to design an experiment to test people’s gender bias when it came to judging mathematical ability. Within the study, the research participants (both men and women) had all done equally well on performance tasks, but the hiring managers weren’t informed of this. Test scores and a photograph of each candidate were provided to the hiring managers. Regardless of whether a man or woman was conducting the hiring assessment, the managers were twice as likely to hire the male applicant.
Today, only 26% of US tech jobs are held by women.
“Not only do women risk missing out on tomorrow’s next great job opportunities, they also risk a more worrying decline in societal influence. As tech remakes the world, women will miss the chance to affect the massive economic and social changes this fourth industrial revolution will bring.”
If women don’t participate in tech, they are losing the chance to influence the largest economic and social change of this century. Unless we make computer science a priority, we risk making gender, class, and racial disparities worse as jobs and opportunities flow to those who have a computer science background. As a nation, we also risk our future competitiveness.
This International Women’s Day, consider what you and your organization can do to improve opportunities for women. Companies like Synopsys have taken on initiatives to create a welcoming environment for women. We have implemented parental leave, offer work/life balance, ensure equal pay for equal work, offer mentor programs and a women’s group that meets monthly.
We believe that diversity in the workforce encourages new perspectives and innovative solutions. We also encourage our female employees to get involved in the community by providing mentorship to the next generation.