Graduation rates for women in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, math) still lag behind men’s, but less all the time. In fact, qualified women are available in much greater numbers than popularly known, while the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) reports that women made up about 42 percent of its 2010 graduating class in engineering. So what happens after graduation?
Most of those grads went to work somewhere, many developing great expertise—using render farms in post-production work, joining NASA, doing R&D in medicine. Historically, however, women were long denied any opportunity for leadership, as inflexible corporate schedules took women off the “career track” for having children. Developing women’s leadership skills is, therefore, a retention tool, one that will also feed the pipeline with future leaders.
There is a vast untapped reservoir of tech-savvy women—teaching, updating Apple’s Xserve RAID designs, inventing new products. But they’re not all corporate employees, managers, and executives. They’re also entrepreneurs, business builders, and consumers. Here are three groups with markedly different approaches to supporting the advancement of high-tech women.
COO Elisa Page says, “Women are the most powerful consumers of the world and companies are still not reaching the core customer.” With some 4,250 bloggers writing on such topics as cooking, new marketing methods, women in tech, and career advice, the site reaches some 92 million women in the U.S. monthly. BlogHer compensates women for their writing while helping them grow their businesses—whether that business is blogging, retail sales, or technology services.
A compensation formula considers such variables as number of blogs and readers, feedback, and influence, leading to over $24 million in payouts since 2010. Beth Blecherman, a California BlogHer member, writes the Tech Mamas blog and advises startups that are creating products and services for families. Blecherman deftly combines the two worlds: the one of women creators, and the one of consumers. With BlogHer, women can be both.
The National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT)
This nonprofit comprises more than 350 other American nonprofits, colleges, corporations, startups, government agencies, and community orgànizations. NCWIT’s aim is to boost women’s participation in computing and technology, through a wide range of community-based “alliances” that work at every level of the challenge, from training to placement assistance.
These alliances—academic, workforce, entrepreneurial, K-12, affinity groups—empower community members to leverage “an infrastructure of best practices, free resources, and an amplified voice for the issues surrounding diversity and technology,” as NCWIT materials state. NCWIT works directly with companies, agencies, and organizations to help them locate, recruit, train, retain, and advance tech-savvy women.
The Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology
The Institute has a single goal—connecting women and technology—but travels a two-way street: one lane toward increasing the impact of women on technology, the other toward increasing the impact of technology on women. Institute CEO Telle Whitney knows “that innovative organizations must attract and retain the best technical minds, both women and men, to grow and succeed in today’s global economy.”
The pool of high-tech talent will continue to grow, requiring ongoing solutions for recruiting, retaining, and promoting women. The Anita Borg Institute, NCWIT, and BlogHer will encourage MIT and schools across America to keep teaching science, technology, engineering, and math to ever-increasing numbers of women, free at last from the tyranny of low expectations. And patriarchs beware: There is no going back.
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