The 1986 movie Space Camp was a game changer for me. Even before the movie came out I had been fascinated with space and wanted to be an astronaut. My parents never told me I couldn’t do it, but as it turned out, math, a fundamental skill for an astronaut, would never be my friend.
That leads me to this week’s topic: What keeps women from pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering, and math? I went into journalism because I like to write, but now I realize I could have just as easily been an accountant. I also got fairly good at operating a content management system and building websites with HTML.
Wired gave an interesting perspective on the gender gap within the tech industry as well as the story of a female app developer who had an investor tell her that he didn’t invest in women. His reason? “I don’t like the way women think.”
But, a Wall Street Journal report on Aug. 13 showed a different angle. In fact, women leading tech ventures can be very successful in attracting funding.
I spoke with Laura Shafer, director of product marketing at StorageCraft Technology. Laura herself is a CRN Woman of the Channel, a highly regarded tech industry achievement for women. Shafer recently attended a Women of the Channel event back in June where they discussed this very topic.
She explained that being a woman in a male-dominated field can often give the perception of not belonging, unless you’re like everyone else. At her job, men outnumber women two to one, she said.
Shafer also mentioned a statistic from one of the event speakers, Terri Griffith, professor of management with Santa Clara University’s Leavey School of Business, “In her presentation, Terri explained that only 3 percent of women graduate with a degree in a STEM field.”
Even Apple, one of the most forward-thinking companies in the world, still has a workforce made up of 70 percent men. CEO Tim Cook is trying to correct that by working with organizations that help disadvantage youth and women.
But maybe it isn’t about what can be done at that level, it might be as simple as what could be done at home. I have two boys who adore Legos, and shopping for them also means seeing the Lego packs they developed for girls. These allow young girls to have imagination and learn to build things. I personally had a chemistry set. It was a lot of fun, but things are different for everyone.
“In elementary school, the number of young women and men who love science is fairy even, but over time, young women starting thinking, ‘this isn’t for me,’” Shafer said. “Some of it is cultural, but I think some of it is that they start to have other interests.”
Shafer told me she came into technology later in life after practicing as a journalist. She became the go-to person in her office for tech questions, which fed her need to know how things worked.
She suggested that women find out where their skill set matches up with a STEM field. Companies always need people who are knowledgeable about computers or functions of computers, but can also explain how they work to others. There is also space in medical research.
“If I were able to talk to my younger self, I would have told her this is where it’s at,” Shafer said.
She also brought to light what most women know, but are afraid to talk about: that we need to be encouraging and supportive of one another. The problem is that women aren’t historically good at that, especially when a more successful woman is the subject of discussion.
“If someone is promoted, we can all be jealous, but we still need to be telling the person that we are proud of their achievements,” Shafer said.
Like everything else involving women, the perception isn’t going to change overnight, and will most definitely involve elbowing your way to the table.
If you have a daughter, it’s never too late to start her thinking of a career in one of the STEM industries. This website gives some great resources, and if that doesn’t do it, you could always sit down and watch “Space Camp.”
Photo credit: Geralt via Pixabay