Paving The Way For Women In Science And Tech

The topic of women in science and tech is inevitably personal.

Author Eileen Pollack was one of the first women to get a physics degree from Yale at a time when women in science was incredibly rare. Recently, entrepreneur Angie Chang paved her own way in Silicon Valley by creating a powerful network of women.

While Pollack encountered isolation, cultural biases and challenges, Chang found ways to learn and engage with a supportive community of women developers and entrepreneurs.

While we know that gender diversity only addresses a small part of the overall opportunity around inclusion, we had a chance to interview Pollack, the author of The Only Woman in the Room: Why Science is Still a Boy’s Club and Chang of Women 2.0 and Hackbright Academy in the latest episode of Ventured about ways to encourage women to pursue science and tech, both in school and in their careers.

I hope our conversation teaches others why having a nurturing environment is important for encouraging young women to pursue their interests in STEM. 

Demand leadership and transparency

Diversity and inclusion must be driven at an executive level. Companies such as Microsoft, Yahoo! and Google are publishing their numbers to make inclusion data more transparent. Compared to 35% in 1990, the number of females in computing roles have dropped: Only 26% of computing jobs in the US are held by women in 2013.

But the numbers continue to decrease for big companies and tech roles within them. Women represented just 12% of engineers in 2013. Having a diverse and inclusive workforce can lead to great profits and foster innovation for global businesses. The National Center for Women & Information Technology found that companies with a gender diverse team had higher sales revenue as well as more market share, when compared to less diverse companies.

Establish early education for underrepresented high school students  

To help girls feel more comfortable with programming, it’s important to introduce computing courses early in elementary school through high school.

For example, SMASH is a free Summer Math and Science Honors Academy STEM-related college prep program for underrepresented high school students of color at the University of California at Berkeley and has expanded to serve students throughout California. Students in the program can learn to code, but also get help with their college prep (SATs and college applications).

Look to non-traditional coding schools to graduate female engineers

Hackbright Academy is an all-women’s coding school in San Francisco, which began 3 years ago. The academy graduates more female engineers than Stanford’s and UC Berkeley’s undergraduate degree programs per year.

Roughly 90% of Hackbright Academy graduates get a job in tech, most receiving an offer within 3 months of completing an engineering fellowship. The majority of the jobs are software engineering positions. Even after graduation, alumni and others continue on in the network and share valuable information with each other.

Increase the recruiting pipeline

Based on how men and women interpret language, words can influence how women perceive job opportunities. A study of more than 4,000 job descriptions showed that when more feminine words were used (“community”, “relationships”, “satisfied”) rather than masculine words (“dominant”, “boasts”, “leading”) in an engineering job description, the job advertisement would appeal to more women.

For instance, the term “hacker” is not as inclusive as “developer.” For that reason, many companies that work with Hackbright Academy often make their job descriptions more inclusive. Also, having executive role models will increase the overall pipeline and encourage more women to apply for jobs listed on the website.

Establishing a support network improves the environment

Success doesn’t mean women have to fight a constant battle. Tap into one of the existing women’s tech networks: Women in Tech, Tech LadyMafia, Girls Who Code, MotherCoders, Black Girls Code, and Pipeline Fellowship to name a few.

At Hackbright Academy, women appreciate the all-women experience and make deep connections with each other to help them in their career path of becoming a CTO of a startup to becoming a chief architect of a large Fortune 500 company.

Consider a name change: From 12% to 40 % female CS graduates

Changing the names of the courses or major can increase the enrollment of women. For instance, Harvey Mudd College changed technical computer classes such as “Introduction to programming in Java” to include words like “creative” and “problem solving”.

The new name was “Creative approaches to problem solving in science and engineering using Python.” By changing the name of computer courses, the number of graduating female computer science engineers increased from 12% to 40% in 4 years.

Besides changing the name, other factors that contributed to the increase in enrollment included: (1) dividing the course up into two levels based on experience, (2) encouraging female students to attend the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing conference, and (3) allowing students to take on research projects after their freshmen year. UC Berkeley, Duke, and Northwestern have also implemented similar name changes.

Encourage more women in venture capital

Many have started the discussion around mentorship, but there is also a distinction between “mentors” and “champions.” Championship can take many forms. For me, it involves direct are three women CEOs I have backed in our portfolio (and there are several other women in the KPCB portfolio). Be a role model in the board room, provide advice and insight on leadership and communication to support and help others succeed.

Diversity in venture funds is abysmal, according to a 2014 Babson study, only 6% of VCs are women. Therefore, the few of us in these roles should lead by example, deliver top level results, and be great partners. More diverse groups make better decisions and will also attract more diverse entrepreneurs to the fund.