Women miss out on high-tech jobs

Computer science firms need diverse pool of employees. Employers may have to import workers.

Women in TechnologyThe stubbornly low number of female computer science students ‍in the United States has generated a pile of academic studies, ample hand-wringing and a wide-ranging discussion ‍in tech and education circles about what can be done to boost the number of ‍women choosing computing careers.  All of which raises a fair question: What difference does it make if ‍women don’t join the tech workforce ‍in the same numbers that men do?  It turns out it makes a huge difference. The dearth of ‍women ‍in computing has the potential to slow the U.S. economy, which needs more students ‍in the pipeline to feed its need for more programmers. It harms ‍women by excluding them from some of the best jobs ‍in the country. And it damages U.S. companies, which studies show would benefit from more diverse teams.

 Quite a trifecta.

“Today, two and a half billion people are connected to the Internet,” said David Culler, chair of the University of California-Berkeley’s Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences department.   “There are more cellphone users than toothbrush users. You look at how intrinsic information ‍technology is to all aspects of society and all aspects of modern life. Would you want any demographic group to be left out of shaping something that is so important to our future?”   The damage starts with a problem that is already being confronted by the tech industry: The economy is creating far more computing jobs than U.S. schools are creating computer science graduates.

Based on current trends, U.S. universities will produce about 400,000 computer scientists between 2010 and 2020, a decade during which 1.4 million U.S. computing jobs will open up, according to Hadi Partovi, co-founder of Code.org  , a nonprofit working to encourage computer science education ‍in K-12 schools.  Without U.S. workers to fill those jobs, employers will face three choices: export the work, import the workers or leave the positions empty.  But where some see a problem, people like Jocelyn Goldfein see a historic opportunity.

Given that ‍women make up not even one-fifth of computer science graduates, she figures, why not encourage them to pursue lucrative and plentiful jobs as programmers, systems analysts, information systems managers and the like?  Kimber Lockhart, a senior director of engineering at cloud storage and collaboration company Box, said she spends most of her time working to recruit new talent and to hang on to the talent the company has.  “It’s extremely hard to hire well-qualified engineers,” she said. “And if we could get anybody else ‍in the pipeline, that could make it easier. If that’s ‍women, great.”

When ‍women are excluded, even unintentionally, from the computing field, they miss out on lucrative tech careers.  Right now, four of the 20 top-paying jobs for ‍women are ‍in computing, a broad field ‍in which only about one-quarter of workers are female.  The best tech jobs for ‍women are positions such as computer programmer, software developer, information systems manager and systems analyst, with median pay for ‍wom‍‍en of about $60,000 to $80,000.  The figures are higher for men, ranging from about $71,000 to about $90,000.

(Picture above) Kimber Lockhart, (center right) who can remember being one of two or three women in her computer science lectures at Stanford, is now the senior director of application engineering at Box, a cloud storage company in Los Altos, Calif. Here, Lockhart attends a “stand up” meeting with her Box Notes team. 


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