I was honored to attend several conferences at Illinois Central College this past year focused on women in technology. I have to admit, the first time I attended one I was rather confused about this being such a hot topic. In reality, this is an important issue: our workforce wants diversity, our workforce is shrinking, more businesses use modern technology than ever before, and more business consumers are women-owned and -run companies.
Business Practice Technology
In the past, only the major corporations could afford a data server able to run computer applications to control their base level accounting, manage their inventory, etc. However, now most companies, even those with just one employee, have a computer generating most—if not all of—the business functions. We no longer have the paperbound green accounting ledger or the piles of binders with inventory sheets.
Every time we go to Wal-Mart or even the local Ace Hardware store our purchases are scanned and recorded into a system. These systems gathering the information don’t run by themselves—they require human developers and managers to run smoothly. This is just one piece of technology. In our society, information technology is far reaching. There are not only computers, but also web sites—graphic development to get information into the format used on the computer medium. Further, the telephone system is nothing more than a computer system controlling telephone functions. Again, there’s rarely a company, even a small one, which doesn’t utilize most of these technologies.
In an age where technology is driving most of our business functions, we’re also faced with a shrinking workforce. The baby boomers are retiring—or being asked to retire—to be replaced by younger workers who have lesser demands for salary and benefits. But the systems in place still need to be updated and manned. Corporate America needs to educate females that their presence is needed just as much as males’ in the currently male-dominated fields.
A Desire for Female Presence
Large technology companies such as HP and IBM have realized a need to employ women. One reason is that women are the fastest-growing segment of business owners. The way women purchase is different than men. Richard Newton, dean of the College of Engineering at the University of California at Berkeley stated, “Men are much more attracted to technology just for the sake of technology. Women in general are less attracted to the technology for the sake of technology and more for what it can do to help—to help people, organizations.”
Catalyst Group discovered that “companies with the highest representation of women in top management positions delivered 35.1 percent more return on equity and 34 percent more total return to shareholders than companies with the lowest representation.” With that return on investment, who wouldn’t want to add more women to their workforce? However, it isn’t that simple. Thus the reason large companies join forces with groups such as Society of Women Engineers and Women in Technology, among others, is to provide educational opportunities for girls in middle school and high school, plus camps to promote careers in the technology arenas. Some start earlier: for instance, in our community, State Farm has a representative assigned to this task. She attends events at schools and gears her message to girls as young as kindergarten. The message is simple: technology jobs aren’t just for boys. They can be fun and rewarding both in salary and flexibility. While the statistics won’t show the fruits of these efforts for several more years, the efforts of companies such as State Farm, IBM, and HP won’t waiver.
How can you help?
According to Telle Whitney, president of the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology, even with all of the efforts of the large corporations and organizations such as Society of Women Engineers and Women in Technology, statistics of women employed in tech jobs is somewhat closely guarded. She estimates the number of women in tech jobs at approximately 20 percent. And national group the Society of Telecommunications Consultants shares a similar statistic, with 23.5 percent of its membership being female.
Typically when girls envision their future they’re looking for ways to become relevant in society. Most of their career choices revolve around helping others and having flexibility. I believe this is why the female gender is so prevalent in teaching and nursing. Information technology is another way to help people, and it can provide flexibility as well as high salary benefits. As business managers and owners, we must realize that women consumers are different than male consumers. By understanding this and building teams that enhance those differences, maybe your product or service can gain an ROI edge just as well as those other Fortune companies.
By educating the youth, we’re able to shape the coming workforce. Every person is born with gifts and talents. This statistic about women in the technology workforce doesn’t mean someone gifted in nursing should become a web developer. However, if a girl, possibly a daughter or granddaughter, shows interest in building things, programming computers, or other “boy” activities, she should be encouraged to grow those gifts through study and practical application. For more information, contact Trudee Bremer or Kim Cioni in the Business & Information Systems Department at Illinois Central College. I’m sure they’d be willing to lend a hand. IBI