I recently attended the WITI Annual Summit, where I was inspired by the work being done to narrow – and ideally one day, to close – the gender gap in the technology industry. Many of us have heard of things companies can do to make a difference in this area. However, that is not always engaging to someone who is not a decision maker or thought leader in his or her workplace.
This blog post is about what INDIVIDUALS can do to make a difference. I will highlight two ways to get more women in technology, supported by the evidence presented by the 451 Alliance group in the conference keynote. 451 conducted a survey in 2016 whose respondents were women in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). The survey results provide valuable information on actions we can take. So, how can we get more women in technology?
I was fortunate enough to be paired with an incredible mentor when I started as a software developer at Macadamian. I am 100% certain that my career path would have looked very different (read “much less successful and less fulfilling”) without her guidance. But I hope this anecdote alone does not convince you, let’s look at the research.
The below slide shows the difference in career satisfaction between women who have been mentored professionally and those who have not. An important distinction is the “mentored” group is those who have EVER been mentored during their career.
The “mentored” group were 24% more likely to be more satisfied with their careers and 13.5% more likely to recommend a career in STEM to other females. It is clear that the experience has a positive impact on the mentee. But besides “for the greater good”, what reason do you have to be a mentor?
To explore this side of the relationship, I asked my colleague Tamsyn Jones, a senior software developer at Macadamian, what she enjoys most about mentoring.
“I love the satisfaction of seeing someone realize how much they can do when they know that you’ve “been there done that” and they are not alone.”
As someone who has mentored numerous software developers in the early stages of their careers Tamsyn considers the benefits of mentoring to her personally:
“Being a mentor forces you to reflect on your accomplishments. It makes you proud of what you have done, so you strive to do even more.”
Although I’m early in my career, I’ve had the opportunity to mentor girls and women with the Ottawa chapter of Ladies Learning Code. I feel I benefited just as much as the mentees. I found mentoring at these events improved my confidence and communication skills – two necessary components of leadership.
Introduce them to Technology in Grade School
Two very interesting pieces of the research presented by 451 where the age in which survey participants decided to enter STEM fields, and the level of career satisfaction as a function of that age.
First, see this slide about when the participants chose to enter the field.
As you can see, 42.2% of people made the decision to enter STEM in school from K-12, a higher percentage than any other category. This is not overly surprising since many positions in tech begin with a college or university degree. If a high school knows they want to pursue a career in tech, they can choose a post-secondary program to suit that career.
In fact, the courses a person can take in their first year of post-secondary education are often dependent on the classes they took in high school. I decided I wanted to take engineering when I was in grade 11, so I was abruptly removed from biology and put into chemistry instead. Fortunately for me, my school knew what courses I would need to take for the easiest, fastest path to my desired post-secondary program. As a result, I was able to enter right into engineering after high school, rather than spending extra time and money making up courses.
This second slide shows how satisfied the survey respondents are with their careers, shown as a function of the time they decided to enter a STEM field.
This one is interesting because it breaks down the K-12 range even farther, showing separate results for grade school and high school. We can see that those who chose a STEM career path in grade school are more satisfied in their careers than any other category.
Hopefully, those people who are satisfied in their careers are more likely to remain in the field, to recommend the field to others, and to become a mentor for those considering the field or starting out in the field.
Bonus: Mentor GIRLS
We have learned that two ways to get more women into technology are to mentor them, and to introduce them to technology careers at a young age. If we put these things together, it’s easy to see that we increase our impact by choosing to mentor girls.
Mark Walker, a senior software developer at Macadamian, recently mentored a group of high school students at the Hacking Health Ottawa Hackathon. He chose to support the students because:
“They were the same age as my own daughter and if they already have an interest in tech then I felt it should be encouraged.”
As for how the event impacted him, Mark was encouraged by the contributions of the younger generation, and said this about the mentoring experience:
“It probably also affected how I might discuss things with my daughter in future: less ‘here are the rules’, more ‘let’s discuss this, what do you think?'”
Thank you for reading and considering these ideas. If you want to become a mentor, I encourage you to check out the opportunities in your area. Depending on where you live, the links to organizations throughout my post may be applicable to you.
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