Why College Women Would Have To Be Crazy Not To Study a Tech Field Right Now

I recently spoke to a family friend who was about to graduate undergrad from a nearby state university, with a minor (I emphasize, just a minor), in Computer Science. She was a marketing major, never particularly interested in computers, but decided to add the minor during her second year of school on a whim, knowing the tech industry was looking for qualified women. Although she had only the minor & a vaguely technology-related 3 month internship under her belt, within a month of starting her job search, she had 4 different major tech companies, including Google, literally fighting for her to work for them. After several rounds of negotiations, she eventually accepted a six figure starting salary at a company in San Francisco, along with a 5 figure signing bonus, and a year’s worth of relocation & living expenses completely covered.

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In the past few years, the top major tech firms across the world have come under heavy fire from equality activists for their lack of workforce diversity. The numbers on paper are pretty clear, these companies employ far more men than women in tech roles, and more Caucasians and Asians than other ethnicities. Despite any fundamental cause, in the modern age of affirmative action & political correctness, this is undeniably bad publicity. As a result, many leaders of these companies have made personal pledges to step up diversity initiatives, and make a concerted effort to recruit more women & minorities over the coming years. And based on everything they’ve done so far, it’s apparent that they’re serious about living up to their word. Intel alone recently pledged $300,000,000 to diversify its workforce. Other companies have made similar promises, and have tied their entire businesses’ public reputations to them.

But are the tech companies actually fully to blame for not hiring more women?  Most experts cite the same problem coming up across the board – the “pipeline” of females studying tech fields in college is almost nonexistent, and is dwindling lower each year. Back in 1984, about 37% of college students working towards Computer Science degrees were women.  But in 2011, The National Center for Education Statistics reports that women made up just 18% of undergraduate Computer Science majors.

Taking these numbers in context, when you look at Google’s self-reported figure that 83% of their tech employees are male – we find that not coincidentally, their workforce is almost identical to the breakdown of male/female Computer Science graduates. Meanwhile, its gender breakdown of non-tech employees is almost 50/50.

Why is this? Some prominent feminist activists have cited issues such as gender pay gaps, misogynistic work environments, & discriminatory hiring practices firmly planted in the tech industry as the primary cause women aren’t pursuing technology fields. However, the real issue appears to go much deeper than that. After all, how many 16 year old girls in high school are really considering gender pay gaps, or the possibility that Steve from the next cubical over might make sexist jokes every day, 7 years in the future when they actually land a job, as their primary motivation for choosing a college major? Probably not many.  

The fact is, most young women simply aren’t very interested in pursuing these degrees due to a number of social factors & stereotypes. From a young age, parents, teachers, & the media, portray computer science as a job made for a very specific type of man. He’s a pale, thin, spends most of his time alone in front of a computer, and probably remains a virgin well into his 40s.  A recent study conducted by the University of Washington showed that both men and women believe that the quintessential computer scientist is “a genius male computer hacker who spends a great deal of time alone on the computer, has an inadequate social life, and enjoys hobbies involving science fiction.” What 16 year old girl who has a good social life, hates Sci-Fi, and has a great boyfriend,  wants to pursue a career that’s for “computer geeks”?

Yet, despite such stereotypes, some of the most successful executives in the industry are young, intelligent, and beautiful, women. Marissa Mayer, for example, started her career as one of the first female employees of Google, eventually rising within the ranks to become a key executive & spokesperson for the company. More recently, she was named the new President & CEO of Yahoo!. At age 38, she’s not only the most prominent women in Silicon Valley, worth over $300 million, AND is considered by some to be one of the hottest executives of all time; she also holds two degrees in computer science.

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But what about this model? Surely someone who looks like that couldn’t be a computer nerd, right?

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Actually, that’s not a famous model, that’s fashion entrepreneur, and CEO of eClick Interactive & New Faces, Hilary Rowland. At age 14, Hilary taught herself to program, and created what was the first ever online magazines for women, Urbanette, which is still in publication today. At just 15, she started NewFaces.com, now a prominent model & talent scouting site.  Today, at age 33, Hilary has started over 50 businesses, and is one of the most successful female internet entrepreneurs of all time – also one of the sexiest.

That’s just two out of a long list of similar women who have managed to rise to prominence within the normally male-dominated sector, and none of them come off as particularly “geeky”.

Whatever the cause of the female shortage, the existence of a problem is clear, and companies are now racing each other to recruit the few qualified women e pursuing tech fields – and are willing to pay big money to get them before their competitors. Its simply supply and demand; Computer Scientist women are in short supply, and high demand.  If you are a woman currently in college, about to be in college, or who is maybe stagnant in your future career prospects – you might want to re-evaluate what’ really keeping you back from tacking on some tech to your degree. Are some antiquated stereotypes really enough to keep you away from high pay & almost guaranteed job security? That same UW study showed that women who took even just one computer science class, were much less likely to believe in these stereotypes altogether.

OK, but you’re not interested in computers, and don’t want to spend the rest of your career working with them. Fair enough. But just because you study a technical field, doesn’t necessarily mean you have to start dressing like a nerd, wearing pocket protectors, and sit in front of a screen pounding out code for 15 hours per day. The tech companies of today are extremely diversified across every business sector – and they need computer competent employees, with enough social prowess to facilitate interactions between the strict “tech” people & “non-technical” personnel & clients. They have huge marketing & advertising arms, graphic & product design, finance, administrative, and legal departments – pretty much anything you’re interested in can probably be found in the tech world.  With the “technology wearables” market now taking off like wildfire, even the fashion industry is starting to play an increasingly important role in Silicon Valley. Hiring a style-savvy girl with a background in both fashion & computer science, who could help design the look of the next generation of smart watches that women would actually want to wear, would be a no brainer for any number of these companies.

That being said, if you have the drive, a style-focused, socially capable, woman who can actually sit down and write code for 15 hours a day would be almost priceless to them. She would be a sought-after role-model to the industry – a destroyer of labels who can pave the way for the next generation of young women in tech. And there is probably little reason that can’t be you besides your own personal prejudices.

The only surefire way to end these stereotypes, and help combat any discrimination, is for more women to get involved and help start breaking down barriers. Even starting in elementary school, women need to start encouraging their daughters, sisters, & friends – telling them it’s OK to steer away from the gender-typical career paths. They should help them explore ways to integrate their genuine interests into the continuously modernizing world, and pursue fields that are becoming more and more in demand.

If at the end of the day you’re still worried about your image – I’ll tell you this, from a guy’s perspective, if a girl tells me she’s in a tech field, I don’t see her as a geek – I see her as a woman intelligent enough to pursue that type of career, and independent enough to not care about social stigmas. That’s far sexier than a girl who got a communications degree because she was too close-minded to pursue anything else. Not to mention, I’d certainly be turned on by her undeniable potential to reach “sugar momma” status, with a high six figures salary & almost unlimited room for advancement.


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