How Philly Can Be the Capital of Gender Equality in Tech
If you’ve been watching certain aspects of the news over the last 18 months that aren’t focused on the Pope coming to Philadelphia, the race for president, or the opening of Star Wars, you may have heard about the current and constantly increasing shortage of workers in the technology space. The U.S. Department of Labor has been forecasting a shortfall of 1 million technology jobs in less than five years.
Being part of the tech industry has made me acutely aware of the reality that supports the barrage of statistics. My company, Chariot Solutions, is a great example, as we can’t find enough experienced, top-notch software architects to meet demand.
One way to ultimately resolve the shortage of tech professionals would be to get more women into the field. Stats show that only 27 percent of people in science, engineering, math and tech careers are women, while those women who are software engineers clock in at around 13 to 15 percent. If you consider women are currently more than half of the workforce and earn 57 percent of the bachelor’s degrees, there’s a major mismatch.
The lack of gender diversity is not just a social-good issue, it’s an economic one. Tapping into this pool to expand the region’s technology and innovation workforce will allow our region’s businesses to grow and thrive. And, remember, technology isn’t just “coding.” It’s game design, cyber security, robotics, multimedia, smart fabrics, medical devices and a multitude of things that we haven’t even discovered yet.
The Philadelphia region is already set up to be a leader in gender equality in tech. A recent study showed Philadelphia as the 9th best city for women in tech, with women filling over 30 percent of the computer occupations and having the smallest gender pay gap. Our community has an incredible amount of resources for women who are looking to be involved in tech, including the largest chapter of Girl Develop It in the country, the Women in Tech Summit, LadyHacks, and of course, my favorite, TechGirlz. Contrary to what we hear about other cities, our tech community is extremely generous and welcoming to anyone who wishes to join.
But more needs to be done. There are not enough girls coming up through schools to fill the rapidly growing number of positions created by technology. So, what can Philadelphia do to continue to be a leader in gender diversity in tech?
- Inspire our large tech workforce to share their skills and expertise. TechGirlz is not lacking for girls who want to learn, we are lacking for instructors who have the knowledge to teach our materials.
- Educate our parents and teachers about the variety of career options available and also why being proficient in technology makes you more employable, even if you think technology isn’t part of the career path. This group has a profound influence on the career decisions of young people.
- Encourage K-12 schools and universities to take a hard look at how they are educating young women around tech. The education system needs to incorporate a curriculum that teaches technology, not just the use of iPads and computers to deliver courses. The curricula must also be inspiring and resonate with girls and young women. This is an issue we hear time and time again from our attendees and volunteers.
- More collaboration between organizations, for profit and not for profit, whose goals are similar. Sharing resources — space, curricula, volunteers, constituents, marketing — allows us to create stronger solutions. No one person or group owns the problem. No one owns the ultimate answer. One reason for the current success of the girls and women in the Philly tech community is due to our ability to work together.
- Create more internship and learning opportunities. Although it is an investment for businesses, having internships and hiring less experienced employees will create the next generation of experienced workers. Where else are they going to learn the skills?
- Work smarter to retain the women who are coming into these tech careers. Companies should look not only at their culture to see if it supports biases, but also at their benefits, work environments and flexibility to keep women in their employ.
- Women who are in the tech field already need to be much more visible. Philadelphia women in tech should be more proactive and take the initiative to start speaking at more local events, attending events and being mentors.
Philadelphia already has the means to support gender diversity in tech and be a leader in the innovation economy — it just needs the support from a workforce that can execute. We already have all the building blocks in place. Now we just need you. The tech community cannot create this change on their own. We need business leaders, educators, parents, government officials and community organizations to join together and take the actions, those outlined above and others, to spark change. Let’s make the Philadelphia region the envy of other cities by having a large and inclusive tech workforce that drives our economic growth and success.
Tracey Welson-Rossman is the chief marketing officer for Chariot Solutions and the founder of TechGirlz.org.