Last month we celebrate Women’s History Month by recognizing the generations of women who have made an impact on society in various ways. Paying tribute also means acknowledging the notable achievements of women who helped to pioneer the computer technology that most of us use every day.
This includes the work of Radia Perlman, who helped develop the modern day Internet; Jean Sammet, who directed the development of the first extensively used computer programming language; and Grace Hopper who built the first computer compiler and laid the groundwork for smartphones, tablets and all of the other tech devices we use today.
But while women have had an impact throughout history on today’s technology, the issue of gender diversity still exists today in the technology field. And numerous studies have confirmed the continued gender gap that we have in the so-called STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) which produces our data workforce. In fact, diversity in information technology and data science careers has been moving backward.
In 1996, women actually made up 37 percent of the IT workforce; but by 2010 that number had dropped to 25 percent. This is a troubling trend in a field expected to grow at twice the national average by 2024 when compared to other industries.
To cultivate and sustain diverse perspectives and expand the pipeline of talent, women must feel welcome in the industry. Many of the larger tech companies recognize this and are making efforts to attract more female talent.
Google and Microsoft have developed initiatives aimed at recruiting, educating and retaining more female employees. Twitter has even gone as far as setting annual benchmarks for a more a diverse workforce, including increasing the total amount of female employees within the company to 35 percent in 2016.
While this is a move in the right direction, there is more that can and should be done, starting with education. In the early 2000s, women made up 25 percent or more of the college students studying for bachelor’s degrees in computer and information sciences. By 2013, that dropped to under 18 percent. To grow the amount of female talent in the industry, cooperation is key.
We as leaders in education must work together to draw more women to computer science and data analytics industries, and it starts at an early age. It’s not just the right thing to do, but it’s essential.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, by 2020 there will be 1.4 million computer science jobs available in the United States, but only 400,000 students are projected to enroll in computer science programs. We are making progress in expanding the educational opportunities children are exposed to in the technology fields.
Nonprofit organizations like Girls Who Code work to inspire and equip high school girls with the skills to pursue opportunities in tech. In Florida, state education leaders are hoping to be the first state to add coding as part of school curriculum.
Higher education institutions have developed more computer science related degree and certificate programs. And numerous data science and data analytics degree programs have been created in the past year.
As an example, at the University of Phoenix, we understand that technology has changed the way the world does business.
Our courses in the College of Information Systems and Technology provide students with a wide range of technical and organizational skills, as well as give students an understanding of core business concepts. This includes emphasizing dual-degree programs for students interested in technology, as well as other fields such as business or health care. This provides a great opportunity for women who are interested in a new and exciting career with endless possibilities.
Explore your options and maybe one day you can become the next computer science trailblazer similar to the likes of Grace Hopper, Radia Perlman or Jean Sammet.
(About the author: Dennis Bonilla is executive dean at the University of Phoenix College of Information Systems and Technology).
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