(Photo above: girls at Tech Trek Camp | courtesy of AAUW)
It’s troubling when you hear about the gender gap in the tech controversy coming from companies like Google where a recent top engineer was fired for perpetuating gender stereotypes. James Damore had written about imagined biological differences between men and women, and how those differences “may explain why we don’t see equal representation of women in tech and leadership.”
Imagine how truly ludicrous his statements are. In fact many of the first computer programmers and coders were women. About 35 percent of computer programmers in the period between 1955 and 1970 were women. In the ’60s, a period of oblique sexism, a lot of innovation in computing began to shift from corporations to places like MIT and Stanford and their computer labs, places almost exclusively male. A field that starts with women, and then as it becomes more lucrative and powerful and more attractive to men, the women are squeezed out.(Reference Technology at time.com by Olivia B. Waxman.)
Sadly the amount of women graduating with computer science degrees has drastically decreased in the last three decades.
Women are not sitting by the wayside and letting this statistic continue, several organizations are taking on the challenge such as Girls Who Code founded with a single mission to close the gender gap in technology. The US Department of Labor projects that by 2020, there will be 1.4 million computer specialist job openings and Girls Who Code has set out to make sure that at least half of those go to women.
Despite data showing that women-led Fortune 500s outperform those led by men, few venture capital firms and angel investors actively pursue women-founded companies. But hold on: The Seattle Times recently reported that Melinda Gates is now launching a personal crusade to bring more women into computer science — the field where she got her start.
Since unveiling the initiative last fall, Gates said she’s started zeroing in on areas where she hopes to make a difference. Those include changes to introductory computer- science courses so they’re more welcoming and interesting to women.
On the local front the American Association of University Women (AAUW) of Bend in collaboration with OSU Cascades, High Desert ESD, Central Oregon STEM Hub and a number of local STEM related businesses and agencies have created Tech Trek Camp. The first camp was an outstanding success showing young women the joys of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM fields) and the value in pursuing STEM in their life-long careers.
According to research, girls give up science and math in middle school grade, due to a number of factors, not the least of which is intimidation by the boys in their classes. Growing a network of STEM oriented girls for support, the premise is that girls will be more likely to continue in these fields into high school and college.
Take note of TAO STEAM. Teri Hockett is heading up the group that launched here a few months ago with the specific mission of creating a gender balance in STEAM careers right here in Central Oregon. TAO STEAM is a community-based organization working together to unify Central Oregon’s STEAM community and tip the scale in favor of a gender-balanced future.
Recognizing the challenges faced by women in STEAM fields organizers believe these can only be tackled by a gender-inclusive, collaborative approach. Chaired by Maggie Hubbell of Agency Revolution they are looking to partner and collaborate with the community, businesses, organizations and individuals to serve as a resource for learning, growth and outreach, for both women and Central Oregon as a whole. (Check it out at www.techoregon.org)
The people who will change the ratio for women will be women. When women set out to change the status quo, make a difference, be fully engaged and activive — things happen! TAO STEAM and Tech Trek and even Melinda Gates are doing just that, finding solutions to bringing women in force to the tech world.