The National Center for Women and Information Technology showed that females held 25 percent of tech jobs in 2015, according to their 2015-2016 report, and research has shown that the number is declining. Shown above: Yasmine Mustafa, founder of Roar for Good, works on the safety device. TNS
Number of women in technology fields decrease, despite STEM initiatives
Despite years of efforts to recruit more women to work in tech-related fields, their numbers have actually decreased, and observers say reversing that trend could take years.
“It has almost been made a man’s field by the way it is taught,” said Samantha Chicas, a graduate student at Ball State working on a Master of Science to help her enter the tech field. “It’s not that there are things that we don’t need to learn that men need to learn, but there are definitely ways to make it more appealing to women.”
Chicas is the project leader of a group at Ball State known as Women Working in Technology. She is currently working on a Master of Science through an eleven-month program at Ball State’s Center for Information and Communication Sciences and has aspirations of working for a technology-consulting firm after completing the program.
She did not start out with an interest in tech, however. Before enrolling into the graduate program, she was pursing a degree in international business. Her interest in tech grew as she learned more fully what the program can offer and what the field is lacking.
“I think we are way past the idea that women don’t belong in the tech field,” Chicas said. “When you have 50 percent of the population not being represented in an industry like technology, that touches everything that we do and has so much potential for innovation. You are losing out on a whole group of people who can bring something to the table.”
According to data gathered by Forbes, Indianapolis ranks as the eighth best place for business and careers in the United States and ninth among cities creating the most technology jobs. Indianapolis was also just ranked fifth of 58 cities by Fast Company as one of the Best Cities for Women in Tech.
However, according to the National Center for Women and Information Technology’s 2015-2016 report, female employees held only 25 percent of tech jobs in the United States in 2015. Out of that, women held only 17 percent of Fortune 500 Chief Information Officer positions.
The data also showed, in 2014, 57 percent of bachelor degree recipients were women but only 17 percent of those bachelor’s degrees were for Computer and Information Sciences.
Indiana's colleges are trying a range of approaches to recruit women for STEM programs to encourage them to stay in the field and help find them opportunities after graduation. At Ball State, Kristen Smith, assistant director of the Center for Information and Communication Sciences and chairperson of Women Working in Technology, said the effort is there — it will just take time.
“There isn’t a tech company in the world that isn’t trying to fix this problem,” Smith said. “I believe that things will change, they always do. It starts really early in life. If you get to girls in middle school and at least get them an opportunity to experience technology, they are more likely to carry that into their future professional careers.”
The Women Working in Technology initiative is Ball State’s most direct way of combating the issue. Smith said the group works hand-in-hand with the Center for Information and Communication Sciences and offers members an annual conference, 12 tech workshops that work with middle school girls and numerous "lunch and learns" with professional women currently working in the field.
“You see these images of men producing all of the tech products. You don’t have as much visibility for the women who are starting companies and innovating in technology that we could have out there,” Chicas said. “There is a large pool of women candidates but that needs to increase to make it more of a force.”
Purdue University also has a similar initiative to Ball State that they call the Society of Women Engineers, which was established in 1954. It is the oldest chartered SWE in the country and is currently composed of over 450 men and women.
Indiana University has the Center of Excellence for Women in Technology. They promote their “techie women” by fostering the idea of togetherness in being in a like-minded goal-oriented community. They provide women with scholarship and internship opportunities, as well as meetings with other women in the field to discuss struggles and tactics.
One of the leaders of this initiative in Indiana is the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. Its recent reports show it expects to have a record-breaking female class interested in STEM programs. According to its website, Rose-Hulman is anticipating having 40 more female students than 2015-2016, when women made up a then-record 24 percent of the freshman class. They are anticipating the spike in female student population to translate into more women being involved in majors like computer science, physics, engineering physics, optical engineering, biomedical engineering and chemical engineering.
This success stems from special efforts from the university by starting the “Future Faces of STEM” campaign that showcased females in tech-related fields. Also, much like the other universities, it has a focus group on campus called Women of Like Fields Passionate About Computing. The group was started two years ago by two undergraduate women and is now up to nearly 40 members.
“It starts with allowing more visibility to women in the field. Role models are very important,” Chicas said. “When you see a room full of men it can be intimidating. In high school classes, if you are one of three female students in the entire class, all of the sudden you feel like you don’t belong there.”
Whatever the solution, it's likely to be an evolutionary change rather than a quick fix, those working in the field say.
“It's not just one reason why there are a lack of women,” Smith said. “I think there are a multitude of reasons that seem to be emerging.”
At Ball State, for example, the Women Working in Technology group, according to Smith, has shown some growth, but still faces a challenge that reflects the current state of the field: the pool of possible members is so small because the College of Information and Communication Science has many more men than women.
“It is very societal. We are taught to go out and be a nurse or be a teacher,” Smith said. “We need to have people that are visibly working in the tech field, so you can tell a little girl that that could be her too some day.”