As a woman in tech PR where females dominate, it’s easy to forget that the glaring shortage of women engineers in our industry continues. I was fascinated by the recently published perspectives of one of our clients about what it’s like to be a woman in computer science and engineering.
Women account for only 26 percent of professional computing jobs, according to the National Center for Women and Information Technology. The number of first-year undergraduate women interested in majoring in computer science between 2000 and 2014 fell 7 percent, though 1.2 million computer-related job openings are expected by 2022.
Google surveyed about 1,600 men and women in 2014 and found that girls aren’t really taught what computer science means and are half as likely to be encouraged to study it. “Boring” and “difficult” were among the words females in the study most often associated with computer science.
Mary Godwin, who has worked in the tech industry for 28 years and is VP of Operations at data storage leader Qumulo, asserts that many women are getting the wrong idea. In her article in Women 2.0 (a great site for female technology leaders, btw), she sets out to puncture five “harmful myths that scare women away from tech.”
The first myth Mary busts may be the most pernicious – the “math is hard” stereotype that women have been branded with for years. Mary confesses she is far from a math whiz and in fact “was petrified of the four semesters of calculus I was required to take as an undergraduate engineering student. But it was all in my head.” Mary buckled down and passed the courses, “not with flying colors, but good enough.”
Many women suffer from “stereotype threat,” which happens when members of a group perform according to stereotypes about them. “The number one thing holding women back is stereotypes,” Christianne Corbett of the American Association of University Women told the Huffington Post earlier this year. “The stereotype is that girls and women are not as good at math and science as boys and men are.”
A recent Indiana University study demonstrated a link between gender stereotypes about women’s ability in math and their performance. “Female test-takers performed worse and reported greater anxiety and lower expectations about their performance compared to men when negative stereotypes about gender were introduced at the start of the experiment,” the university said.
Mary goes on to make a convincing case that four other common misperceptions are bunk: You work alone most of the time, you have to work with nerds, you’ll be stuck on one career path, and you’ll never find work-life balance.
“The technology field provides women with endless opportunities for professional and personal growth and financial stability: Challenging work, being able to support yourself and possibly live your dream – what’s more glamorous than that?” Mary writes.
I couldn’t agree more. We’re living in an almost indescribably exciting time of technology advance, with our industry leading the way in solving major business and societal problems. We can ill afford silly gender barriers blocking bright young minds from entering the field when we need them most.
I’m looking forward to the day that Mary envisions, when more women stop asking themselves why they’d choose a career in technology and starting asking, why not?