Posted October 4, 2021 by Mark Perna
We’ve lacked female voices in tech for too long. It’s time to remedy that. Mark’s article, “Crossing The Gender Gap In Tech: How To Inspire More Women To Embrace STEM,” published at Forbes.com on September 28, 2021.
Our lives have gone digital. From the products we use daily to the content we consume online, tech companies are increasingly influencing the direction of humanity and creating the solutions of the future.
The problem is that we have too few women working in these companies—especially in top leadership roles—which threatens to leave half the world’s population out of the conversations shaping our collective future since just 25% of STEM jobs are held by women.
In addition, a UNESCO study found that globally, women comprise just over a quarter (28%) of engineering graduates. Yet, according to a report on the state of women in tech, only 11% percent of practicing engineers are women.
And things seem to be trending in the wrong direction, as the World Economic Forum warns that the pandemic has put women another generation behind in reaching parity.
“Advances in technology will surely not consider women’s issues if there are no women to point them in that direction,” says Somi Arian, tech-philosopher, filmmaker, entrepreneur and founder and managing director of FemPeak. “Women need to be part of the conversation that is creating solutions for the future of humanity so that we can achieve equality.”
Arian is the founder of Smart Cookie Media, a modern-day digital marketing firm for thought leaders, as well as an investor and advisory board member of NuroKor Bioelectronics, a wearable technology startup. Somi’s latest endeavors are the Think Tank for Women in Business & Technology and the FemPeak platform that aims to help raise women’s socioeconomic status. Given her experience and perspective, I asked Arian to share her thoughts on how we can cross the gender gap in tech as a society and get more young women interested in STEM careers.
The lack of women in tech begins at an educational level. “From an early age, girls have been steered away from careers and activities having to do with STEM,” says Arian. “And even the ones that have shown interest have not been encouraged to pursue it.”
A mere 3% of female students say they would consider a career in technology as their first choice. That’s apparently a result of many women lacking enough information about what working in the technology industry or having a STEM-based career entails.
Unfortunately, even the women who do pursue careers in STEM must confront an unfriendly workplace where they lack support from many of their male peers. “Many women also point out how hard it is to be heard and taken into consideration for promotions and opportunities to rise through the company’s corporate ladder,” she says.
The numbers are even more daunting for minorities and women of color. Plus, even if a woman enters the field, the statistics show she’ll be paid significantly less than her male peers.
Apart from the lack of education and encouragement from an early age, another important factor holding many women back is a lack of confidence. “Women, more than men, may have a very hard time fighting the ‘imposter syndrome’ and gaining confidence in ourselves that we are able to do anything, even conquering technology,” says Arian.
Finally, the women that do break into tech often don’t remain there. The UNESCO study found that female tech professionals in the U.S. who walk away from the industry do so most often because they feel undervalued.
As an advocate for female representation in the tech industry, Arian says her biggest challenge has been to get more women interested in this field—to open their eyes and break the cycle of fear of technology. Her goal is to help women understand the big picture that technology is for them.
“I think we need to begin by improving general knowledge in order to be able to use technology to its full potential,” says Arian. “This will enable us to become better at identifying ways in which we can improve tech products, which in turn will allow us to become better engineers and designers.”
And the first step to tackling that challenge is to get women of all ages to familiarize themselves with a conceptual understanding of technology. Arian says that women should study the technologies available today, what they do and how we can use them. Books like Superintelligence by Nick Bostrom and Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari are great starting points.
“Whether it is artificial intelligence, blockchain technology or whatever,” she says, “just make sure you understand it. Read, get informed and practice. Try to envision how the future of the world and our society might look like and think about where you fit in that vision. Will you be a passive observer or an active participant? How can you use technology to fulfill your full potential?”
To begin solving the inequities in tech, we must play to women’s strengths, says Arian—especially for women interested in entering tech later in their career. “For example, as coding is something best learnt at an early age, it is impossible for adults to compete with someone who has been coding since age 9,” she says. “On the other hand, the older generation can excel at designing and engineering solutions to our everyday problems.”
Designing involves developing specification requirements to solve a particular problem, while engineering consists of translating these requirements into a technical specification describing a system that conforms to these requirements.
“There have been plenty of successful companies created by non-technical people,” says Arian, “that are driven by the need to solve a problem through the application of technology.” In general, many women are also adept at handling ambiguity and uncertainty—allowing them to approach problems from a different perspective.
There’s also the business case to be made that since women represent half of the world’s consumers, it’s only logical to include more women in the tech that affects all of us. “With more women in these companies,” says Arian, “there will be more products catering to women’s needs, thus increasing profitability.”
Employers and educators alike can help address the tech gender gap by taking an active stance on this issue. Women of all ages can hop on the technology train toward a stronger future. Stop letting advances in tech pass you by, urges Arian. The time to act is now.
“As women, we need to make our voice heard in this critical industry,” says Arian. “If we are not part of it then we will have no say on how it affects our lives. We need to be present and learn how to use technology, which in turn will allow us to become better designers and engineers of technology.
“We can take an active role in creating the solutions for the future.”