Only 8.3% of chief technology officers (CTOs) in the US are women, according to research by diversity focused technology industry organisation AnitaB.org.
The gender diversity issue in STEM requires a two-pronged approach – one that serves those women already some way into their career, and one that helps create a fairer opportunity for future generations, according to US based Workforce Software, CTO, Nicole Neumarker.
There is widespread agreement that the technology industry’s gender diversity problem needs to be addressed at the stage of early education.
“For many, a passion for STEM may start in their mid-teens and be fostered at university – but you only get to that stage with a foundational understanding of maths, which starts as early as five-years-old. So, the path to a STEM career begins extremely early,” says Neumarker.
A mixture of institutional and cultural reasons have seen girls and young women disproportionately dissuaded from pursuing maths educational choices.
“The unfounded stereotype that girls are better suited to language-based or creative topics, whilst boys are ‘more logical’ is a prime example of how this gatekeeping happens. Access to, and confidence in, a foundational level of mathematics is the key to unlocking STEM subjects in further education and at the professional level,” says Neumarker.
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According to a survey by US banking services company Capital One, over half (56%) of women leave the technology industry by the mid-level point in their careers for reasons including institutional barriers and gender bias.
In order to retain women currently working within the technology industry, the onus is on employers to help women to enter STEM teams and acquire deep technical skills in software languages or systems architectures, whilst still making decisions that best serve their business objective.
“For example, the transferable skills of project management and leadership, analysis, and planning, that most professional women will already have acquired can be a valuable ‘in’ for those looking to move into STEM,” says Neumarker.
The historic gender gap in STEM skills training means women currently make up just 16.4% of the IT engineering workforce. “This isn’t a reason for tech leaders to continue to hire more men than women,” says Nuemarker.
Instead, leaders should identify women with potential and give them the opportunity to enter teams later in their career by using existing, transferable skills and supporting them with more specific upskilling support.