Women in Computer Science: 5 Assumptions to Avoid
The shortage of women in computer science is no secret. It’s been a hot topic in recent years, with numerous organizations and campaigns rallying to increase the number of women in jobs related to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). President Barack Obama even made women in STEM jobs a focus of his administration. Even tech tycoons like Facebook and LinkedIn have joined the conversation.
But the facts remain. While women make up nearly half of the job market, they held just 26 percent of technology jobs in 2013, according to the National Center for Women in Information Technology. Microsoft predicts around 1.4 million tech jobs will open in the U.S. by 2018, yet only 29 percent will be filled by women.
Marci McCarthy, CEO of T.E.N., can personally attest to the recruiting efforts being used to attract female applicants. “Women can benefit from being the minority in a predominately male field,” she says. “In fact, being a woman gives you an edge!”
So why aren't more women capitalizing on this opportunity? Many are steering clear of computer science careers because of some false assumptions they have about the industry.
We connected with some prominent female tech professionals who are understandably passionate about this issue. Here is what they had to say.
Common myths keeping women from computer science jobs:
1. Computer science jobs don’t help people
Females are typically more interested in pursuing a career in which they can help others, according to a study by the Girl Scouts of America. This is why we see a surplus of women in fields like nursing and teaching. Computer scientists may not have as direct of an impact on the lives of others, but they play an instrumental role in many areas of society—health care and education included.
“Not all technology jobs are about making the next big dollar or ranking number one in the Apple store,” says Ayanna Howard, chief technology officer at Zyrobotics. Her company specializes in designing smart mobile technologies to enable educational play opportunities for children with special needs.
“It’s hard to beat the personal satisfaction you get when a mom becomes tearful after using your technology with her child,” Howard says. She feels fortunate to be able to use her passion for technology to make a difference in the lives of children.
2. Men are more quantitative thinkers than women
“This one is easy because it’s simply not true,” says Kristin Smith, CEO of Code Fellows. In fact, women tend to take just as many advanced math courses as their male counterparts from middle school through college, often achieving higher grades, according to a Cornell University study. This suggests it’s choice—not ability—that deters women from math-intensive careers.
"Both sexes are equally capable of objective, quantitative thought process."
“Both sexes are equally capable of objective, quantitative thought process,” says Jacqualyn Summervill, managing director at BalancedComp. She believes the gender gap in computer science is simply a result of deep-rooted gender roles in our society.
3. Computer science jobs require you to work in isolation
Many believe working in computer science equates to spending hours trapped in a small cubicle in front of a computer all day. This statement couldn’t be further from the truth, according to Jennifer Forbes, IT technician at Technology Seed.
Forbes explains she’s constantly communicating with clients and building relationships with them and her own colleagues. There are many positions in technology that require you to collaborate on a daily basis, such as computer systems analysts, IT project managers and helpdesk technicians.
4. Women are unwelcome in technology work environments
“We’ve all heard the frat-house culture horror stories and there’s a lot of hype around the worst of the worst,” Smith says. She says she has never felt unaccepted in the workplace and claims these occurrences account for only a small minority of female technology professionals.
"We've all heard the frat-house culture horror stories and there's a lot of hype around the worst of the worst."
Tanya Waller is a senior business systems analyst at IT staffing firm Eliassen Group and she agrees that she’s never felt unwelcome. She started working as a network administrator in the 1980s, when it was extremely rare for a female to hold that position, but was always comfortable working alongside her male colleagues.
“As long as you know what you are doing, people will respect you for what you can do. Gender is not important,” Waller adds.
5. You must know how to code to work in technology
It’s true that many careers in technology revolve around coding. It’s also true that not everyone can hack it as a computer programmer. The good news is there are plenty of promising positions in technology for those intimidated by coding.
“Coding isn’t for everyone, but that doesn’t mean a career in tech isn’t an option,” says Marie Peters, marketing manager at Cigital, an application and software security firm. She explains that while the industry needs builders, it also needs people who can communicate the vision, build the roadmap and help the end users.
Peters advises those who aren’t keen on coding to pursue positions in product management, security testing, technical support or digital marketing.
We need women in computer science
These misconceptions have been deterring women like you from pursuing a career in the promising tech industry. Now that you know the truth about women in computer science, isn’t it time you take advantage of the opportunity?
“The field of technology is growing continuously,” McCarthy says. “The job market is hot and women absolutely have what it takes!”
Learn more about why the future is so bright for women in technology.