In the 1950s, computer scientist Grace Hopper created the first compiler program. By translating words into symbols and numbers that computers could follow, her innovation made programming easier and contributed to the success of the language COBOL.
Despite pioneers such as Hopper, women in 2020 held only 25% of computing jobs, reports the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. They were even scarcer in top management ranks, according to a 2019 survey by Korn Ferry, representing only 18% of chief information officers.
But career prospects are steadily expanding for women in technology, according to two professors from the Villanova School of Business’ online Master of Science in Analytics program.
On the demand side, many tech companies are aggressively recruiting women. On the supply side, academic programs are bringing tech companies together with students while also exposing students to successful women in technology.
“Seeing women in these roles encourages women to pursue these roles,” says Alicia Strandberg, PhD, assistant professor of management and operations. Although men still dominate the industry, she says, “I am optimistic that things are changing, and there are more and more opportunities for women.”
What Women Can Bring to Technology
Women in technology fields can bring unique talents to the job, say Dr. Strandberg and Sue McFarland Metzger, professor of information systems. They have different experiences, skills and perspectives that can add real value.
“One of the things that we tell women is that yes, they may need to know some new skills, but they probably have some skills already that will transition really well into a tech field,” Dr. Strandberg says.
As evidence, she points to the growth of female entrepreneurship. From 2014 to 2019, the number of women-owned businesses increased 21%, compared with only 9% for all businesses, found an American Express study. Professional, scientific and technical services constituted a significant share: 13%.
Metzger points out marketing benefits to cognitive diversity. According to a Nielsen survey, women have primary or shared responsibility for 89% of the daily needs purchasing. “We’re a significant buying force, so why wouldn’t you want women on your team to build your products?” Metzger says.
Opportunities for Women in Technology
While women in tech jobs can offer unique abilities and insights to employers, technology can offer them unique work opportunities suited to their goals and needs.
Variety in Career Choices
Because virtually every modern industry uses information technology and data analysis, women with those backgrounds are not limited to computer or internet jobs.
“Learn the skills, and you can apply them anywhere,” Dr. Strandberg says. “If your passion is health care, you can take the skills and go with health care data. If your passion is sports, you can take these skills and go to sports.”
In many industries, entry-level jobs offer little responsibility. By contrast, in technology, individuals can go straight into cutting-edge areas such as blockchain or fintech after earning their degrees. “It’s pretty powerful when you have somebody two years out of college and their title clearly states they are working in cybersecurity,” Dr. Strandberg says.
Control Over Work Environment
For professionals who have to juggle family and work, many tech jobs include options for working from home and flexible hours. This allows for greater control over their workday and workspace. According to Ivanti, 51% of women working in technology said flexible working policies, including the option of part-time work, would make a job more attractive to them.
Metzger cites these benefits: “It’s great to be really engaged and work with a lot of people but do it a little bit more on my terms.”
How Women in Technology Succeed
Despite increasing job opportunities in the tech world, the two professors say, connecting with them can still be a challenge for female students. They offer some advice:
In recent years, Metzger has seen more technology firms recruiting directly from university programs. Often, they bring students on as interns, hiring them for permanent jobs after they graduate.
“Companies realize that they need a pipeline,” she says. “They have to market themselves as being out there looking for diverse talent.”
The greatest resources for women in technology are other women. Networking communities such as Women in Data and Women in AI have chapters worldwide. Their members share tips and encouragement, receive mentorship from experienced professionals and participate in events focused on networking and education.
“You learn how to seek out good mentors,” Dr. Strandberg says. Someone new to the field greatly benefits from having a co-worker who can give career advice, help navigate company politics and point out opportunities.
The ideal mentor would be a female, but in a workplace with few women, one might not be available. In such a circumstance, a male mentor who has a daughter might be interested in supporting a woman’s career growth, Strandberg suggests. “They may be more aware of some of the issues that you have.”.
VU Women in Tech: How One Platform Creates Opportunities
An example of a platform that helps women in technology succeed is Villanova’s VU Women in Tech. It began with an alumnus who was concerned that a magazine publisher with mostly female readers employed mostly men in the technology department. “He was anxious to help support us in bringing more women into technology,” Metzger recalls.
She and Dr. Strandberg began looking for other companies with similar personnel needs. The result was a conference, now in its sixth year, that’s grown to nearly 500 registered attendees (a mix of students, faculty, staff, alumni and local supporters), 20 speakers and five corporate sponsors.
“We’ve sought leaders in areas where we don’t traditionally think of women,” Dr. Strandberg says. “We’ve had female experts talk about blockchain, artificial intelligence and natural language processing, so we’re not afraid to go after the big new thing.”
During the rest of the year, the program hosts shorter workshops, under the title “Cookies, Cupcakes and Coding.” In one recent event, students tried programming a quantum computer over a long lunch hour.
The goal of such workshops—and the whole program—is to expose female students to career possibilities in technology they might not have considered, Metzger says.
“We’re making sure that women are aware of the opportunities out there,” she says. “You can’t be what you don’t know.”
Analytics Opens Opportunities for Women in Technology
As opportunities expand for women in tech, an analytics degree can open doors to a wide range of industries, from high tech to retailing, finance and health care. The online Master of Science in Analytics at the Villanova School of Business teaches a variety of data skills, including data mining, text mining, machine learning, and programming in R and Python. Explore how this program can provide a toolkit for success in the technology jobs of tomorrow.