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The impact and necessity for women in tech

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The digital revolution has undeniably affected the economic growth of every industry. However, we’ve also seen that technology can have true impact towards tackling some of the world’s biggest issues. The technology industry holds a powerful role in our economy, as well as our society. Yet that same industry still struggles to reflect the diverse world around us. While women make up over 49% of the global population, women are incredibly underrepresented at all levels of the tech industry. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics women only represented 25.6% of U.S. computer and mathematics jobs last year.

Today, technology companies are revolutionizing the way we work, live and interact with one another. However, these companies may be creating products, services and solutions that only reflect their worldview, which is predominantly male. This leads to a lack of gender diversity in the product ideation and creation process. Given that a wide audience uses these technologies, this creates an inherent challenge for society. The solution seems simple- include more voices to increase diversity- or is it as simple? Studies support this claim, with evidence suggesting a gender diverse environment can have a great impact on both business and society.

Gender impacting the bottom line

In a global analysis, Credit Suisse found organizations with at least one female board member yielded higher return on equity and higher net income growth than those without any women on the board. Another report from the Peterson Institute for International Economics shows how firms that increased from zero female corporate leadership to a 30% female share were associated with a 15% increase in profitability.

A study published last year in the Harvard Business Review revealed companies with above-average gender diversity had statistically significant correlations with innovation, both individually and collectively. In other words, more diversity means more tools to solve problems, break down barriers, and inspire innovation. When you hire a diverse group of people, you are also hiring different methods and strategies of thinking and understanding.

Statistics aside, I’ve seen the power of women firsthand through the organizations I work with every day. These women are founders and creators of cutting-edge solutions that not only aim to make the world a better place, but also create groundbreaking services and improvements within the industry.

Katherine Clayton, for example, is one of the three female co-founders (with one male co-founder) of OmniVis (formerly Pathvis), a smartphone-based platform that is able to detect pathogens in water. The platform uses a real-time methodology to detect diseases, like cholera. Already in its many testing stages, Katherine expects OnmiVis to launch in early spring of next year. Aside from her constant work to refine the product and launch, she has led the company to win startup competitions as well as advance through numerous incubators and accelerators.

Aneri Pradhan, co-founder of ENVenture, developed a simple accounting and business management tool that makes it easier for entrepreneurs in developing countries run their business without financial literacy. Aneri’s foresight for a wider footprint and more resources led to a partnership and acquisition by an energy company, New Nexus Energy. By recognizing the bigger picture and looking for a partner with similar goals and impact, this partnership will not only extend her work into a new sector, energy, but also increase her resources and geographic reach.

An economic force to be reckoned with

In a broader sense, women are one of the largest single economic forces in the world. According to Catalyst, women control over 70% of all household consumer spending in the U.S. For consumer tech companies, lack of women in leadership roles can mean an inability to relate to a huge part of their customer base. As tech continues to be incorporated in every aspect of our life and our homes (especially with the increase of IoT solutions), it is essential to consider the economic impact women can make through their consumer choices.

In addition to their spending power, women entrepreneurs, particularly those in tech, represent a huge opportunity and promise for the economy. By empowering women and girls to develop new products and solutions, we can enrich entire neighborhoods and communities. Take for example, Nomi Networks. They strive to create economic opportunities for survivors and women at risk of human trafficking and aim to break generational cycles of slavery, helping these women learn the skills to find independence both financially and personally.

Whichever way you look at it, women are a dynamic and powerful force within the economy. We must look to create opportunities for women and girls to learn new skills, sustain their interest in technology, and allow them to thrive and excel.

Where do we start? The classroom.

How can we ensure that women are included in the tech industry? The solution needs to begin where the majority of us got our start – the classroom. According to a recent Microsoft survey, over 30% of middle school girls believe that jobs requiring coding and programming are “not for them.” In high school, that percentage jumps up to forty. Girls and young women have a hard time picturing themselves in STEM roles. To change this mindset, they need more exposure to STEM education, female role models, and better career awareness.

Curiously, in 1984, 37% of computer science majors were women, but we’ve backtracked since then. In 2017, women earned only about 19% of computer science and bachelor’s degrees. Recent reports have implied that many women choose not to pursue computer science degrees because of the stigma against tech roles, and because they don’t see themselves fitting into that framework. As stereotypes have continued to spread over the years, fewer and fewer women are likely to get degrees in STEM.

Meanwhile, over half of women who do manage to enter the tech field end up leaving. Roughly 52% of women leave the technology industry by the mid-level point in their careers, according to the Center for Work-Life Policy. These women are oftentimes driven out of a promising career in tech by a number of factors, such as gender bias, unequal pay and other institutional barriers. Addressing all of these challenges will not be easy, but it will be worth it.

Empowering women and girls now and in the future

The tech industry is used to solving problems. It’s what we do best. But there is no one grand solution to fix the gender gap in tech overnight. Instead, there are many changes that we can make to encourage more women to find a passionate career or creative interest in technology and show the industry how to create an environment where they can excel.

With diversity and innovation in mind, we’ll be able to invigorate businesses and inspire tech innovations that address challenges we are currently facing. By using the right tools and technology that accurately represent our diverse world, I feel that we can enrich the lives of everyone and, in particular, the lives of women and girls.

About June Sugiyama

June Sugiyama has been the Director of the Vodafone Americas Foundation for the last 17 years. Previously, she served in several roles at Vodafone’s predecessors, AirTouch and Pacific Telesis International. She most recently led the Foundation’s transition toward impact through technology related programs. She also developed the Vodafone Americas Foundation Wireless Innovation Project, a competition designed to seek the best wireless technology solutions to address critical social issues around the world.June served on the board of Northern California Grantmakers and participates in the Arts Loan Fund and the Emergency Loan Fund of the organization. She also serves on the advisory board of the Foundation Center in San Francisco, and served on the advisory committee of the Vodafone Group Foundation and United Nations Foundation Technology Partnership, the board of the National Japanese American Historical Society, the Business Arts Council in San Francisco and Nobiru-kai, a Japanese newcomers association. June received her teaching credential and liberal studies degree at San Francisco State University, masters and specialist credential at University of San Francisco, and has teaching experience with schools throughout the Bay Area, especially in the Japanese Bilingual Programs. See June’s recent posts and activity on her LinkedIn

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