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RAY: Let’s close the gap for women in tech

May 28, 2016

ray-mt-innovation-16.jpgIt’s no surprise that a significant gender gap exists in the tech industry, and Indianapolis is not immune. Closing the gap is a large and difficult problem, and one that needs all our focus.

Here in Indy, we have seen our tech ecosystem explode over the past 10 years. Thousands of tech jobs (and more coming, with the recent announcement by Salesforce), increased venture capital investment, and major acquisitions and IPOs have turned Indiana into a hotbed for tech talent, putting even more pressure on the already limited supply. Yet with all this growth, we are still not seeing an equal number of women turning to this male-dominated industry.

Currently, women make up 29 percent of the tech workforce nationally, but hold only 16 percent of the technical roles. To clarify, I define “technical roles” as positions in software engineering or product development, where coding, the development of software and ensuring the technology works are the main focus.

We need more women who can code, drive innovation and bring diversity to the tech industry.

■ The demand exists: A quick LinkedIn search shows more than 80,000 open software developer positions in the United States, with an average salary in Indiana of $72,942, compared with the average salary in this state at $41,470.

■ The supply is missing: The root of the problem is the lack of computer science education in our schools. Kudos to Indiana, where the State Board of Education voted this spring to add computer science standards in K-8 classrooms. Unfortunately, in the majority of schools across the nation, computer science is not a requirement.

How do we begin to solve this problem?

■ Education: Girls need to understand the basic fundamentals of computer science, so they can understand potential careers in tech. Schools need to be more focused on “girls only” coding groups, and align with groups like the local not-for-profit Nextech, whose main focus is to promote coding for those in K-12. Nextech is a fantastic resource that partners with Code.org and the local tech community to develop programs that inspire students to pursue tech careers.

■ Role models: Women tech leaders have to be role models, to lead by example and get involved. Without them, it is hard for girls and young female professionals to have a clear vision of their career potential. Women leaders will help dissolve the myths and stigmas associated with roles in tech, showing that women have a place in this ecosystem and they, too, can have a rewarding and well-compensated career. Companies need to play their part as well, by encouraging their female tech employees to get involved in mentoring programs in schools, in the community and on college campuses.

■ Awareness: When we’re aware of the problem, we can proactively look for ways to fix it and take deliberate actions to close the gap.

Proactively targeting technical female talent is a must. Ensure there are female candidates for all open roles; make it a requirement. Include females on the interview panel, so female candidates have the ability to talk with other women working at your company. Make sure there is diversity on your website. This will do wonders to attract not only women, but also other less-represented groups.

We also need to be deliberate in making women feel more welcome in tech. In a field heavily dominated by men, females can easily feel like outsiders and feel uncomfortable. Educating current team members on inclusion is a necessity.

The truth is, it is everybody’s responsibility—from executive management to individual contributors, both male and female—to make this a priority. As technology continues to revolutionize our world, women are missing out on career opportunities, and the tech space desperately needs them.•

Ray, formerly vice president of global recruiting and employee success at ExactTarget and Salesforce, is the vice president of talent at High Alpha.

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