The early history of computer science is full of contributions made by women, from Ada Lovelace to Grace Hopper. But workers in IT today are overwhelmingly male: one source estimates that less than 20% of tech workers in the USA are female. By means of comparison, 38% of lawyers in the US are female, while 60% of American physicians under the age of 35 are female.
The gender disparity in tech is obvious. And given the industry’s low unemployment rates and talent shortage, this disparity is not just embarrassing, it is detrimental to growth and sustainability. So while schools attempt to enroll more girls into STEM programs, and HR departments develop new policies to promote diversity, what can we do as individuals to get rid of this gender gap?
- Preach. Actively encourage the young women in your family to consider a career in tech. Ask them what problems they could imagine solving by using technology. Introduce them to Scratch or Python, watch videos on Watson together, bring them along to industry conventions and lectures that you attend. And if they express an interest in pursuing computer science, help them find classes and mentors to further support their exploration of the field.
- Call out bad behavior. According to this 2016 survey, 60% of women in tech reported receiving unwanted sexual advances at work. The perspective that the tech industry is hostile to women is not unfounded. So if you see something, say something. Tell the teammate cracking sexist jokes that they’re not funny. If a colleague turns a coworker’s body into the subject of conversation, let them know their behavior is outdated. HR is there for cases you’re not comfortable handling. Do your part to make the industry culture more respectful.
- Grow your inclusive muscle. Test your products on diverse customer panels. Sometimes features or drawbacks that are obvious to one demographic can be completely missed by another. Have colleagues from different backgrounds review your company’s marketing, recruitment, and other public-facing materials, to catch and edit out any unintended bias. If you find yourself reinforcing a stereotype in the workplace, take accountability and correct the mental gaffe.
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