On July 22nd, Presidio Federal General Manager, Clara Conti, spoke at the Government CIO Women Tech Leaders Forum with several other women tech leaders. Her remarks outlined how women are currently underrepresented in technical roles and how they will be needed in the future to bridge the talent gap. Her remarks also cover the types of things companies can do to support women in these roles. Below you will find her entire presentation.
Hi I’m Clara Conti, General Manager of Presidio Federal.
For context, Presidio Federal has just completed a spin off as a wholly-owned subsidiary, and independent entity of Presidio. We have traditionally been a value-added-reseller of collaboration technology and IT modernization products and services. However, we are rapidly transforming into an innovative solutions provider by adding capabilities in the areas that we see as most critical for the federal government. Our growth platforms include: augmentation, automation, cloud, cybersecurity, digital infrastructure and collaboration.
For additional context, my background has always been building technology companies. Over the last 25 years I’ve worked with IBM in support of federal government market needs and solutions. That included solutions leveraging IBM’s Watson Cognitive Business which is an artificial intelligence solution. Other client solutions involved cloud, automation, analytics, big data, digital mobile, the internet-of-things, blockchain, security technologies.
However, my educational background is not in technology; I majored in business. However I’ve been working in technology throughout my career. So you might say I grew up with the technologies that agencies now require to modernize.
When looking at the list of women panelists for today’s event it was encouraging to see the high caliber of women who are operating at senior levels of government and industry. That wasn’t always the case. I’ve noticed this changing over the last ten years, but the data outlining the representation of women in technology is not so encouraging.
So today I’d like to provide you with an overview on how women are represented in technical fields. And then I want to talk about what we as women in technology can collectively do to increase opportunities for qualified women in our orbit. Because given the mounting stakes of today’s technical challenges and what you’ll learn about the workforce, drawing women to these fields is an essential step toward our nations ability to modernize our systems and protect our citizens.
Bear with me as I share a few important statistics that will help paint the picture.
Educating Women for Technology Careers
- According to TechCrunch 74% of girls express a desire for a career in STEM fields
- There has been a significant increase in the number of awarded bachelor’s degrees in engineering and computer science since 2012. However, only 20% of those bachelor’s degrees are being awarded to women. And 6% being awarded to women of color.
- It is interesting to note that 28% of freshmen men enter college with intentions to major in engineering, math, statistics or computer science but only 9.5% of women enter with the same intention
- Over 32% of women switch out of STEM degree programs in college
- Sadly, only 30% of women who earn bachelor’s degrees in engineering are still working in engineering 20 years later.
So bottom line is that more women are considering technical fields, but changing their minds before they get there. The question is whether the number women who do go on to pursue technical roles will be enough to address the talent gap.
Women Entering the Technology Workforce
- In 2020, women represent 57% of the professional workforce, yet the tech workforce is made up of only 25% women
- 13% of all engineers in the workforce are women
- 26% of all computer scientists are women
- At the same time, half (54%) of organizations say the digital talent gap is hampering their transformation programs and that their organizations have lost competitive advantage because of a shortage of talent. (according to a Capgemini and LinkedIn joint research report)
Given the projected growth of technology-related jobs over the next 20 years, it is essential that women become a larger share of the technology workforce.
What Happens After Women Enter the Technology Workforce
- According to the National Center for Women and Information Technology, the quit rate for women in the high-tech industry is 41%, whereas for men, it is only 17%.
- 30% of women who have left engineering professions cite organizational climate as the reason
- One study we looked at said that the majority of women that have worked in male-dominated environments have felt excluded, unsafe, and uncomfortable at some point
- Another study cited a lack of access to creative technical roles as a reason women leave
- Evidence suggests that many women would not have left had there been more on- or off-ramping options or other supports for competing life priorities.
- Exiting the workforce altogether was quite rare for women who left STEM or non-STEM professional jobs. Family factors did not account for the majority of exits from STEM jobs.
So research suggests that women are not exiting these careers primarily for family concerns—and even when they are, they might have made different “choices” if more flexible options to support these competing responsibilities had been available.
Different Perceptions Between Men and Women
- 63% of men in technology companies view their companies as equal opportunity employers regarding gender
- Only 47% of women agree to these sentiments (according to women in technology statistics for 2020)
I realize that was a lot of data but my goal in this short amount of time was to raise the alarm on the why organizations will need to understand these issues better in order to make sure women are part of the technical talent gap solution.
What Can Organizations Do to Support Women in the Technology Workforce
- Create a culture of inclusion – anyone would feel more willing to stretch and actively contribute outside their comfort zone if there is an overall culture of inclusion. In talking with successful women in our organization, I learned that they may experience confidence gaps so a culture that is encouraging and supportive is very important.
- Leverage certification programs – the vast number of technical certification programs provide opportunities for women to take on technical roles – even if they chose not to pursue their STEM educations. Companies should leverage these technical certifications whenever possible.
- Mentoring programs can be formal or informal but essentially, they offer senior female role models that are not part of an employees reporting structure. Mentors are there to listen, offer advice, and potentially open doors. Kind of like a guidance counselor.
- Sponsorship programs – while like mentoring programs, sponsorship programs charge senior executives with identifying and nurturing top talent. More formal versions of these programs might contain earned training opportunities. While informal programs allow executives to identify opportunities to expose and include
- Strong maternity and paternity policies will allow both parents the support they need to raise families. Having senior executives follow these policies is an important step in making sure that employees really do too.
- Establishing a workplace culture that rewards creative and innovative solutions to challenges makes high-intensity tasks like coding all day more interesting
- Schedule those all-important networking and training opportunities to take place during work hours
At Presidio Federal we are moving fast and working toward putting many of these programs into practice.
See Clara discussing the ways industry can support women in these roles Clara Conti on Supporting Women in Tech – YouTube