“Mentorship and inspiration are great motivators.” That was part of Chad Norman’s answer to addressing the lack of women in the technology field. “It’s important for young girls to see female leaders in the community doing tech,” the chief marketing officer of Catch Talent added.
As reported in part one, Norman, along with John Mistretta of Blackbaud, Marc Murphy of Atlatl, Chris Rickborn of BoomTown, Fred Robinson of Benefitfocus and Don Taylor of Boxcar Central, were all sitting on a panel discussion at a recent Charleston Women in Tech meeting titled: The Male Perspective on Women in Tech.
With men making up approximately 80% of the technology industry, I went to this meeting of more than 150 women, curious about the causes of this imbalance. What I learned could be summed up like this: “Houston, we have a pipeline problem.”
Rickborn shared: “I recently had this discussion with our director of talent. We look very hard and try to treat every open position the same (when it comes to gender diversity). It really comes down to a pipeline issue with us.”
Pipeline. We get to do something to change it.
“Studies suggest middle school to be the point when the divergence begins, and we find fewer girls interested in computer science,” Charleston Women in Tech Executive Director Carolyn Finch said. “This is why early exposure to technology is important. When there’s a lack of interest early on, young females then face confidence issues regarding their computer skills and are less apt to try to tackle tech at a later time.”
So what is this city doing to address that issue?
I approached Laura Varn, a business executive and Liberty Fellow focused on women’s empowerment, for her thoughts.
“Mentorship programs for middle- or high-school aged girls could make a big difference in influencing them to pursue a future in technology,” Varn said.
She continued: “It is admirable that the Charleston Chamber of Commerce is partnering with school districts by offering Career Academies with a STEM focus. They can really jumpstart a young girl’s interest in this booming industry.”
One local school district has put its money where its mouth is and invested heavily in building the Laing Middle School of Science and Technology. The focus at Laing is on an “integrative STEM education” that breaks away from traditional teaching methods.
Well, they must be doing something right. Laing was just named the top STEM middle school in the country. Now, we just need to figure out how to replicate their success.
Any other ideas?
I have one. How about we bring Girls Who Code to our city? They’re a national nonprofit that offers free summer programs and after-school clubs for female teens to learn coding. Anyone want to take that on? It certainly might make tech less of a boys’ club.
Thomas Heath, CLC, is a business coach, strategic advisor and founder of Thomas Heath Coaching. Have a question? Planning a great startup event? He loves to respond to our readers. Contact him at Thomas@ThomasHeathCoaching.com or on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/AskThomasHeath.