Posted by: Carol | April 19, 2011

Dare 2B Digital 2011

Our last couple posts focused on the culinary arts, but we’re going to change gears today and take a look at Information Technology/Computer Science industries, and what we’re doing to help prepare our young people – in particular girls and young women –  for careers in these vital fields.

I think there’s a general assumption that the Information Technology (IT) and Computer Science (CS) industries tend to be male-dominated (which, incidentally, is true). But I admit to being a little surprised when I did some research to see just how the numbers look today. After all, these “high tech” industries have moved their products into the forefront of our day-to-day lives now. The vast majority of Americans engage with technology – whether its via texting on our mobile phones or using our computers to browse the web – everyday, multiple times a day. Also, young women have been obtaining higher degrees in greater and greater numbers and entering the workplace at a similar pace. Surely then, it’s not too much of a stretch to imagine that the numbers of women in the IT and CS professions would have increased as well. Especially since these women would have spent the larger part of their childhoods and young adulthoods using technology themselves.

Girls in a Dare 2B Digital 2011 Workshop

Apparently, the exact opposite has been happening. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, almost 15,000 women earned bachelor’s degrees in computer science at U.S. schools in 2004 – which made up about 25% of all such degrees. However, in 2009, just under 7,000 women earned similar degrees, making for only 18% of computer science diplomas that year.

Consequently, we can see the effect of these numbers in the workforce. The percentage of women in high-tech jobs such as software development and electrical engineering, has dropped from 25.6% to 23.9% between 2001 and 2010, according to a FINS.com analysis of Labor Department data.1 Despite a steady increase in high-tech positions in the U.S. over the past decade, the number of women working in the industry has remained mostly static, hovering near 1 million.

Opening Keynote Session at Dare 2B Digital 2011

So why all this talk about the gender gap in the tech industry? Well, back in February, we attended (as sponsors and volunteers) the 2nd annual Dare 2B Digital Conference on Careers for Young Women Using Computing Technologies . It’s a one-day conference presented by Invent Your Future Enterprises and its partners, targeting girls in grades 7-10 living in the Bay Area. Its intent is to convince these girls that tech careers are not just for the guys – that not only do they have a valuable set of experiences, perspectives, and talents to bring to the field, but that the industry itself is more interesting than they may think. Over 300 girls and their parents attended the event.

Girls attending the "Designing an Android App" workshop at Dare 2B Digital 2011

Local female (and male) technologists from companies like Microsoft, Oracle, Google, HP, Mozilla, Cisco, Symantec, and others were on hand to teach workshops such as Robotics, Learning to Program, Designing Android Apps, Creating Your Own Movie, Digital Communication Skills, and more. Other activities included a scavenger hunt through the Museum of Computer History’s “Revolution” exhibit, experiencing “Umi,” Cisco’s new telepresence product, and a lunch where girls were matched with a female technologist mentor.

Volunteers from Oracle at the Dare 2B Digital 2011 Conference

Parents were also in attendance, learning about what they can do to support their daughters, both throughout their educations and through this critical time in their development.  While their girls were in their own workshops, parents attended sessions on topics such as, “Financing a College Education,” “Online Safety,” and “Handling Teen Stress.”

Attendees of Dare 2B Digital 2011 viewing the "Revolution" exhibit at the Museum of Computer History

It was a great day, and girls walked away with a fresh sense of what’s possible for themselves. I found myself wishing I’d been able to attend something like this when I was an adolescent and hoping that when my own daughter, Kate, is old enough, I could bring her to this event myself.

So here are some questions for you, readers: how important do you think it is to try to recruit more females into heavily male-dominated industries like the IT and CS industries? Are you also seeing very low numbers of females enrolling in your IT and CS programs and courses? If so, what, if anything, are you doing to try and address this imbalance?


Responses

  1. I think many girls fail to get past their worry of being branded a “geek” and the isolation of the male-dominated environment. I took a CS class a few years ago, and I was one of only 3 females in a class of 100 students. Not only do the industries need to recruit more women, but they also NEED to be doing what this fabulous event did – start early and educate boys and girls about diverse career paths in technology! I admire what Amir Abo-Shaeer has done with his program. I would LOVE to see an all-girls STEM magnet school in California one day!

  2. […] experts at the eBay campus in San Jose, Calif. We covered this conference last year (read the post here), and thought it was a fantastic event chock full of opportunities for girls to engage with and […]


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