The latest women’s revolt in the tech industry—a class action suit filed against Microsoft in September by female employees—has made a few things crystal clear. One: there are still far too few women in Silicon Valley. Two: there are still tremendous barriers to women’s entry and advancement in all STEM fields. Three: that’s all about to change.
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Women both within and outside of the techstream are increasingly raising their voices and taking action, determined to turn the tide. The Microsoft suit was preceded this year by similar lawsuits against Twitter and Facebook, and even an unsuccessful action against the premiere venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers was impactful.
Former Kleiner Perkins partner Ellen Pao lost her gender discrimination suit. But her specific claims were widely publicized, empowering other women in tech to speak up about their own gender biased experiences, and causing women outside of Silicon Valley to take notice.
The irony that our most innovative industry is also among our most stubbornly insular is lost on no one—least of all women, who understand that this industry is ripe with some of today’s most lucrative opportunities.
Whether industry leaders like it or not, a shift is occurring and tech firms will increasingly be looking for women to fill the gender gap. As those doors open, however, far too few women of color are prepared to walk through. This has to change.
Janice Johnson, founder and president of Grassroots Community Foundation in South Orange, New Jersey, is among those working to increase our numbers. Johnson, who felt so isolated as a math major in college that she switched to sociology, launched her organization to prevent today’s girls from turning their backs on the two career sectors that are arguably of the most critical importance to their future economic empowerment: finance and STEM, as she did.
“Girls and boys start out with the same levels of gravitation toward STEM interests but, as girls’ bodies begin to develop, there’s a push away from science and technology toward areas that pique their creativity and desire to change the world,” Johnson explains. “We encourage our girls to see technology as an exciting way for them to be creative and make the world a better place.”
This fall, Grassroots is hosting a 19-week program at which girls, ages 9 to 11, are building and programming their own task-specific robots (for more, go to grassrootscommunityfoundation.org).
The lack of opportunity for women in tech can’t be successfully addressed without addressing the dearth of women currently studying or with a deep knowledge of tech subjects. We can start by encouraging the girls—and girlfriends—in our lives to nurture their STEM interests, boost their STEM knowledge and skills, and go for those STEM jobs as the walls come tumbling down.