Bay Area and California Organizations are Taking the Initiative to Close the Gender Gap in the Tech Industry

One of the most pressing and prominent issues in today’s technology boom in the Bay Area is the gender gap in the tech industry. Women-oriented tech initiatives are slow to emerge, but are coming into prominence in the Bay Area. Fostering an interest in STEM subjects such as computer science and engineering must begin at an early age, starting in high school or before. Studies show that while girls perform on the same level as boys in high school, boys are more likely to pursue engineering and computer degrees in college. According to the American Association of University Women, only 12 percent of engineers and 26 percent of those working in Computer Science are women. And the numbers are tragically even lower for Hispanic, African American and American Indian women.

One of the most prominent organizations working to encourage girls to get involved and stay interested in computer science is Girls Who Code. The group focuses on closing the gender gap that exists in the technology industry, specifically with high school girls. Girls Who Code has rapidly growing summer programs and after school initiatives that teach girls the basics and gets them excited about the future of coding in their careers. Getting high school aged girls interested in computer science is important, but it is equally important that they stay interested past high school, in order to pursue a career in the tech industry.

Elsewhere in California, Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, California has a female President that has championed women in the tech workplace with astounding results. Maria Klawe, says “[r]esearch shows that teenage girls think that disciplines involving programming and hardware like [computer science] and [electrical engineering] are boring, that they won’t do well in these courses…Moreover, in many cases when a female student does enroll in an intro course, she withdraws because she feels underprepared in comparison to some of the students (mostly geeky guys).” Klawe encourages computer science majors at Harvey Mudd to see the opportunities that lie beyond sitting in a cubicle coding all day, and makes Computer Science fun and relevant to girls future lives.

Everyone seems to agree that the most important way to encourage female participation in technology jobs is to make the workplace a more encouraging and friendly place. “Perhaps the most important thing is to ensure a supportive environment for female (and male) tech employees at all career stages, including providing access to mentors and sponsors,” Klawe said in response to what makes women successful in the workplace. Women engineers who were most satisfied with their jobs worked where there were clear paths for advancement, challenging opportunities and they felt valued and recognized in their roles. In other words, when a workplace treated them well, women liked working in tech and computer science, and will continue to do so.

Isis Anchalee, an engineer at OneLogin has also sparked a movement online through the social media campaign called #ilooklikeanengineer. The hashtag surfaced after she received harassment for her inclusion in a tech recruiting ad for her company. The campaign challenges how a person in the tech industry should look, and has inspired events and meet-ups all over the Bay Area. Additionally, the San Francisco-based global group Women Who Code have meet-ups to discuss the education and advocacy for women in tech, and are 8,500 strong in San Francisco alone. Bringing together women in the tech industry rather than alienating them is the key to advocacy, and social groups and social media are the quickest and easiest way to do that.

San Francisco is taking the lead on initiatives to get more girls and women interested and invested in the tech industry. As one of the fastest-growing and concentrated tech areas in the world, many San Franciscans are actively looking to make a difference and encourage women to participate.