November 19, 2010

Women in tech = Stronger tech engine

There are not enough women leading tech start-ups. Here are four actions of what to do about it. But first why, where, and why.

Why bother getting more women tech leaders? Besides addressing gender-equity issues, everyone stands to benefit. Companies and their customers gain from female creativity and leadership, women self-actualize, and our nation is more competitive. The result is a stronger tech engine.

Where do leaders of tech startups come from? One proven path to tech leadership is to start as an engineer, scientist, mathematician, or computer scientist. The percentage of female graduates in engineering, science, and math is well under 25 percent and has gone down. The National Center for Women and Information Technology reports that “in 2008 women earned only 18 percent of all Computer Science degrees. Back in 1985, women earned 37 percent of CS degrees.”

What’s more, many females who graduate with a technology degree do not stay in the field. The Society of Women Engineers reports that between 7 percent to 16 percent of engineers, depending on the discipline, are female.

Why don’t girls pursue tech degrees and careers? That is the question the Girl Scouts Research Institute explored in a report called The Girl Difference: Short-Circuiting the Myth of the Technophobic Girl:

  • Adults are not encouraging girls to pursue math, science, and technology-related courses.
  • Girls and women lack mentors in their career pursuits.
  • Early childhood messages prevail. Boys are expected to learn about machines and how things work. Girls are not. Gender-specific social expectations limit the likelihood that girls will be creators and producers of technology.
  • Girls reject computer games that are violent and find action-gaming boring and repetitious. Girls prefer games that feature simulation, strategy and interaction.
  • Women would be more attracted to computer science if it were integrated with other subjects and resulted in their ability to do something useful for society.

What to do – believe and act

While the research has shown the same causes over and over again, here’s what to do about it. Believe it is possible to change the situation and take action.

1. Build the pipeline

“The key is to identify girls’ interests at an early age, provide them with the opportunities to learn about math, science, and technology, and link them together in a support network to keep them motivated.” – Sally Ride, NASA astronaut and founder, The Sally Ride Science Club

Start early. Help the girls in your life learn to love mathematics and science and to envision themselves pursuing a related career.

Ask your schools to sponsor MESA (Mathematics Engineering Science Achievement) or some similar support program. Colorado MESA is a statewide pre-college program that provides after school math- and science-based learning activities to over 3,600 preK-12 students, with over 78 percent from ethnic and gender groups that are under represented in engineering career fields. It works – 100 percent of MESA seniors graduate from high school and historically, more than 90 percent have enrolled in college with over 80 percent enrolling in a math/science related major (www.cMESA.org).

Become a sponsor of a support program, create an internship, or fund a scholarship.

2. Identify and promote role models

Promote the women leading technology startups. Show it has been done.

There are many successful female tech entrepreneurs including longtime veterans as well as up-and-coming leaders, including Margaret “Meg” Hansson has led seven start-ups including Erth which has patented technologies to dispose of waste; Diane Green, co-founder and CEO of VMware, transformed a 1998 startup into a $2 billion public company leading the virtualization and cloud infrastructure; and Janet Eden Harris, previous CEO of Umbria, a marketing intelligence company sold to J.D. Powers, is now a leader at MarketForce.

Mentor girls and women to see themselves as leaders in the tech industry.

3. Improve access to funding

Supportive investors must challenge others to mentor and fund women-led businesses. Bloomberg BusinessWeek reported earlier this year, in “Women Entrepreneurs Still Struggle to Get Funded,” that “women launch nearly half of all startups, yet they lead only 7 percent of companies backed by venture capital.”

Establish funds that support female entrepreneurs such as the now-closed, Boulder-based Women’s Equity Fund.

4. Think big

Women entrepreneurs may benefit from a bigger vision. A local research study concluded that female technology entrepreneurs were developing business plans too small to attract traditional tech funding.

Women technology entrepreneurs should set a larger vision, develop business plans, and build teams to grow $100 million-plus businesses.

Theresa M. Szczurek, Ph.D., co-founder and CEO of Radish Systems, is a serial technology entrepreneur. The story of her last start-up which grew from $0 to where it was sold for over $40 million is included, along with her strategies for success, in the Amazon-bestseller “Pursuit of Passionate Purpose: Success Strategies for a Rewarding Personal and Business Life.” Contact her at www.RadishSystems.com and @TheresaSzczurek on twitter.

There are not enough women leading tech start-ups. Here are four actions of what to do about it. But first why, where, and why.

Why bother getting more women tech leaders? Besides addressing gender-equity issues, everyone stands to benefit. Companies and their customers gain from female creativity and leadership, women self-actualize, and our nation is more competitive. The result is a stronger tech engine.

Where do leaders of tech startups come from? One proven path to tech leadership is to start as an engineer, scientist, mathematician, or computer scientist. The percentage of female graduates in engineering, science, and math…

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