By Jackie Davis, Director of IT and STEM Programs
In my work, I see elementary, middle, and high school girls immersed in technology. It makes me feel both relieved and envious. I’m so happy to see that more and more girls are learning tech skills from an early age, and I’m relieved that we’re seeing the field of technology shift to encourage and include more women. But I’m also so jealous that these opportunities weren’t available when I was in school.
One of my favorite quotes is from Finnish computer programmer and children’s book author Linda LiaKiss: “Little girls don’t know that they are not supposed to like computers.” What a thought!
I have to wonder where I would be in my life if I had been introduced to technology at an earlier age. Would I, and other women, have fumbled through high school and college trying to figure out what we wanted to be when we grew up? Would we have spent so many years trying to find our place in careers that are more traditionally dominated by women: social worker, nurse, teacher? If the doors had been opened to us as elementary school girls, would we have had an easier time finding our niche in life? Not only did we not have the doors to open, we weren’t even in the same room!
Has it ever happened to you that you’ve had a conversation with men working in technology who miss the mark on appropriately and helpfully explaining issues? How often do these unproductive conversations mean that they have missed out on building a trustworthy relationship between their department and others?
Because the world of technology has been so heavily controlled by and made up of men, women have had a difficult time finding their place. Workplaces and whole job fields benefit from representation by both men and women. Skills that are considered more feminine, like communication and empathetic listening are lacking in the tech industry, largely because it simply doesn’t include a diverse representation of voices—women’s in particular. And why is technology not considered feminine? If more women were included in technology, perhaps some of the communication and relationship building problems mentioned above wouldn’t be such big issues.
I can remember working at a school district and traveling to each school, trying to find out what our technology department’s gaps were. Most teachers would tell me that the tech staff would usually come in to fix the software/hardware issue and leave without guiding them through the troubleshooting process. They wouldn’t wait for the teachers to finish their lesson to ask if the issue was truly fixed or not. I spent most of my time making up for this lack of communication and dealing with issues with a more comprehensive approach, spending a month on something that should only have taken a couple of weeks. The teachers were so grateful for the time and attention because they felt taken care of. When I left the classroom, they knew what to do the next time something went wrong.
Beyond what women can bring to the technology field, there is a lot that they can benefit from by being a part of it, too. It’s one of the highest paying industries out there, and it doesn’t cost a lot in education and training to get started. The work is incredibly meaningful; just look at the time I’ve been able to spend helping and working with schools and students. The world of IT is also flexible, meaning it might be easier to have a family or choose a style of work that suits you.
I believe technology needs more gentleness, empathy, and sensitivity. How can I not? One of the best ways to bring more of these traits to the industry is to include more women. Additionally, women themselves can benefit greatly by being a part of it. So, I have taken on a new role, like many women who are in the same field: advocacy for more women in technology.
After sixteen years of being graciously invited into so many schools, I truly do see this current generation as the one that will bring the men-to-women ratio in technology to a suitable and more productive level. It has to be better than the abysmal 25% of computing jobs that were held by women in 2015 (according to the National Center for Women & Information Technology). I am proud to be a part of the movement to change that statistic.