Women in Tech: TechWomen Aims to Empower, Support

PrintThere is no doubt the tech sector is booming, with job growth beyond that of many others industries. But despite the fact that women comprise just over 51 percent of the U.S. workforce, they represent only 26 percent of the more than 3.8 million computing-related positions. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the U.S. Department of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) launched an initiative called TechWomen in 2011 to bring some much-needed change to this statistic.

For two years, TechWomen has endeavored to “empower, connect and support the next generation of women leaders in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).” They do this by providing access and opportunity to women who want to pursue careers in the tech sector.

Within seconds of visiting their website, it’s easy to see the impact TechWomen has already made during their two short years of existence. The site details intriguing information about the initiative’s various programs, mentorships and personal stories. And not only is it motivational to read about these women’s experiences, but it is an incredible resource for anybody who wants to learn more about the field of technology. The interviews with female tech professionals featured on the site are particularly enlightening.

One exceptionally inspiring story is that of 25 year-old Jordanian entrepreneur Evelyn Zoubi, who applied to the program in 2012. Through the program, she received the tools and support she needed to start her dream business—a wardrobe digitizing website called eCloset—and is now a lot closer to putting that plan in action.

Excerpt from the article:

Evelyn applied to the TechWomen program. Having been told frequently by many around her that her ideas were not cemented entirely in reality, she did not believe she would be accepted. But Evelyn had a stronger urge to find the right ecosystem for her project to bloom. A few months later she received life-changing news; she had been short-listed at the US Embassy. Evelyn’s dreams grew bolder after the interview.

“The committee that interviewed me from the US embassy was clapping after I told them my idea. They charged me with positivity that made me sense that I was stepping into a new phase in my professional life.”

One month later, Evelyn received her acceptance letter to the TechWomen program. Soon after, she was in the United States.

While immersed in the TechWomen program, Evelyn was strongly influenced by a workshop led by Barbara Fittipaldi from Center for New Futures. “Barbara asked me a very simple question about what I wanted my vision to be. About what my dream was,” said Evelyn. “I said I wanted to digitize wardrobes around the world.  I spoke my mind for the first time”

Zoubi is but one example of the amazing female talent emerging in the field of technology. She believed in her own idea and combined it with her existing knowledge of technology—then took a risk, left her existing job supporting technology startups, and pursued her dream. This is the type of creativity that the tech industry is potentially missing by not attracting more women.

Loneliness and Expectations; The Challenges of Being the ‘First’

Many women trying to enter the technology field face the same obstacles as Evelyn Zoubi but unfortunately do not have the support of TechWomen or similar organizations. Coder Ciara Byrne shared the challenges women face in the tech sector in this post for Faster Company. Byrne explains the isolation and pressure she often felt as a female coder:

“I was once offered a job on a development team of 50 where I would be the only woman. Mostly I was still the only woman, but I chose smaller, less intimidating teams. Always the only woman in the meeting, often the first – the first female R&D engineer, first female project lead, first female software team lead – in the companies I worked for. What the management blogs wittering on about leadership don’t tell you was that being the first is a burden. You carry the responsibility of representing not only yourself but the entire experience of working with that semi-mythical creature, the female techie.”

Although Byrne describes a harsh reality for female coders, women like her have broken down barriers and have begun to change the norm in the industry. There is good news ahead for women looking to pursue a career in technology.

Tide Quickly Turning

As we look into the future, the situation is far from grim for women in tech. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, from November 2012 to November 2013, the tech industry added 60,000 jobs, and 60 percent of these new positions went to women. This is a stark contrast with recent history. According to CNN.com, in previous years men have made up 70 to 80 percent of new hires.

It’s clear there is still a lot of ground to make up if we want to get the most out of the talent and creativity women have to offer the tech industry. But it’s good to know that despite the challenges, we are making progress and beginning to recognize what women can bring to a technology atmosphere.

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The ever-evolving technology industry has been traditionally populated by males. And while women comprise 51 percent of the workforce, they only make up 26 percent of tech professionals. This lack of diversity limits the potential for innovation in this exciting and important field. OWC’s Women in Techarticles featured on the OWC Blog aim to examine what can be done to attract more women to the industry by highlighting prominent tech professionals, current events, and other relevant stories from within the tech sector. To gain new insight, it is imperative that we tap into the female working population. This progress can be made not only spreading the word and promoting the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (or STEM) fields from an early age to encourage interest and pursuit, but also by demonstrating that tech companies require alternative skill sets such as marketing, design and writing as well. We hope that you will share this series and help us advocate the complete utilization of this important resource.


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