Why it's Never Too Late for Women to Join STEM Professions
With ACI’s fourth Coding for Girls Camp coming up on April 21st, ACI’s Sampy Gajre, senior recruiter and an eternal advocate for women in tech professions, talked to us about the challenges and opportunities for women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) professions. She shared with us what organizations and communities can do to help encourage more women to join the field, and why it’s never too late to follow your passion.
Nidhi Alberti: A recent stat showed that in 1995 37% of computer scientists were women. In 2017 it was only 27% - and if it continues to decline at this rate, only 22% of computer scientists will be women by 2027 (Girls Who Code).
I find that difficult to take in because I know a lot has already been done for women in STEM, including programs set up by the Girls Who Code nonprofit organization and various local affiliates. Is it not enough? What are your thoughts?
Sampy Gajre: Clearly there’s a lot more that needs to be done! However, it’s important to remember that there is a societal mindset that needs to be changed for a significant impact to take place. Historically, society has put more emphasis on boys when it comes to math and science subjects, which continues to take place even today. Along with educating young girls about professions in STEM, I think our society and the parents of young girls need to be educated on the importance of including women in such professions.
I came across an NPR article that talks about women in computer science and why they stopped coding. The article says that parents were a major factor in promoting boys over girls when it came to computers back in the 1980s when personal computers became a common household item. Moreover, organizations marketed computers to men more than to women. So, we need to change a mindset that is nearly 40 years in the making. That doesn’t happen overnight.
NA: What can organizations like ACI do to encourage girls to take an interest in STEM?
SG: Organizations need to take an active interest in promoting STEM and computer science related professions through initiatives like ACI’s Coding for Girls Camp. With role models like ACI’s Shelley Ahlers, SVP Software Engineering and Eve Aretakis, executive vice president of application development, serving as ambassadors for young girls looking to get into the profession, girls will have someone to look up to as they explore STEM.
At the ACI Coding for Girls camp we bring leaders like Shelley Ahlers to come and talk to the girls about her journey – from starting out through to becoming SVP of Software Engineering. Having successfully come up the ladder in the so-called male-dominated technology field, Shelley is a perfect role model for these girls. Lisa McKee, senior compliance analyst and IT audit manager – who is also one of the camp instructors – talks to the girls about the variety of different technology professions available and emphasizes that coding doesn’t have to be about isolating oneself in a cube writing lines of code. One could be a fashion designer and use AutoCAD to create dress designs, or go into advertising and then branch out into graphic design.
Opportunities in the technology field are unlimited – it touches every aspect of our lives no matter what profession we are in. Just like the wage gap between men and women will take 170 years to close (according to the World Economic Forum), the gap with women holding technology jobs will take years as well. However, the efforts to close this gap are in motion and organizations should take this up as part of their corporate social responsibility.
NA: What are you expecting out of the upcoming event that maybe hasn’t happened at past events?
SG: One thing that we hope to do this time around and moving forward is to talk to parents and the girls to see if they would be willing to be role models or ambassadors for future campers. There is nothing more impactful than relating to a peer or someone from your own age group. If we can solicit a few of the campers to come back to the next camp (which will be in October this year) and speak about their experience with coding, and what professions they aspire to pursue, that would have a greater positive impact on these young minds.
NA: What advice would you give young girls who feel they’ve missed out because they weren’t exposed to opportunities early on?
SG: I’d say, it’s never too late to learn, or get an education or even to change majors. There is no shame in starting late. In the U.S. especially, where one can go to high school and sit in a class with 16-year-olds and a 54-year-old and not find that odd, the opportunities are boundless. I would tell girls to just follow their dreams, change their minds in the middle of high school or even college and go after that STEM major, and break the glass ceiling. Don’t live with “what ifs.” The new rhetoric around “coding for girls” is in their favor today. For example, Affirmative Action requirements encourages companies to fill technology jobs with women.
Lastly I would say to the girls that being a woman is not a shortcoming by any means and they should never accept that if told so by someone else. The sky is the limit and there is nothing stopping them from being the next CEO of Microsoft or Apple.
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