At the start of a new year is when pundits predict, futurists forecast and change-makers challenge. It is also when we trend watch, retrospect and resolve. 2015 is no different; except for one thing. This year, I cannot help but notice how my long term personal cause, scarcity of technical women, seems to have garnered enough media attention that I dare think it is set to become an overnight change.
I believe 2015 will be a catalyst year when women come into their own in the workplace.
Enrollment and retention of women in technical disciplines will increase. Leading indicators like equal pay, equal representation, and equal opportunity will shift towards the positive aggressively. Even more dramatic, girls will be drawn to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) in greater numbers.
From junior-high to the boardroom, girls and women will have more options for their dreams. Geek girls will be cool, tech women will be leaders.
What’s Been Brewing in 2014?
An internet search shows a staggering amount of digital ink on the topic of working women (and lack thereof) in technical capacities.
In June 2014, Yahoo was back into positive media space by publishing a diversity report and acknowledging a deplorable lack of women in its workforce. Other players followed suit—Google and Facebook—and acknowledged themselves equally culpable. Women support groups like GirlGeeks.org had their most successful conferences to date.
How about thought leaders? In December 2014 Rev. Jesse Jackson shook up Silicon Valley leaders by taking them to task over diversity. USA Today said “Jesse Jackson spent the better part of this year imploring high-tech companies to include more African-Americans, Latinos and women among their employees.”
The Huffington Post reported that “Women are certainly still transitioning into workplace equality, particularly in tech—which is why we’re always seeing headlines that display shocking statistics about the lack of women in leadership roles” said Molly Reynolds.
The book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, by Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook made it into just about every controversy on the subject, in a social as well as professional context.
Intel at CES
In January 2015, at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, a gathering of techies, a male bastion, Intel announced a $300 million investment in training and recruiting female and other groups of under-represented computer scientists. “A confluence of industry events has brought the lack of women and minorities in technology to the center stage, from the threats and harassment that have characterized the debate in the gaming world to the publication of hiring data and diversity statistics in the tech industry,” said Intel CEO Brian Krzanich.
That CES was the venue of choice, versus say, a women’s conference is significant. It establishes diversity not as just a women’s issue but men’s as well. In the past, we used to have to make the case that diversity in workforce brings diversity in thought; it’s better for business, teamwork, culture, whatever worked.
No need to be an apologist in 2015.
Admittedly, with decades of professional experience in Silicon Valley, I do not remember a time when we did not lament the lack of diversity, lack of role models and mentors, lack of pipeline for technical women, pay-inequality, glass ceilings and sticky floors.
As a working mother, I observed my daughters’ struggles with being good at math and being considered un-cool. As for higher education, in New York only three women were enrolled in my graduate chemistry class and all of us dropped out without getting our Ph.D.
But in 2014, it was not just women in technology, like myself, that got involved in the discussion, everyone else did too.
Why will 2015 be different?
In addition to the volume of discourse in 2014, even bigger changes are evident.
Women have changed. We no longer talk about mommy wars, quantity vs quality of time in rearing children (a big one for me and I thank my role model working mom in India), and why we need good daycare (I attended town hall meetings with only one other woman to support me, to bring after-school care to Bullis Elementary school in Los Altos Hills). We don’t hear the term latchkey-kids and moms are not accused of resorting to local libraries as child-care havens because women have learned to support one-another and created new businesses to fill such gaps. We don’t talk about work-life balance as if it is a women’s issue alone. We don’t talk about “you can’t have it all.”
Men have changed too. Passage of time has created a new generation of dads used to working alongside women. They proudly take paternity leave. When I started working in the late 1970s, the mommy ideal was stay-at-home “Leave it to Beaver.” No longer. Daddy today wants his daughter to have economic independence and marry for love not financial security. A college degree is to acquire skills not a catch. A job is a necessity, a career yet more satisfactory.
There is societal change. When men and women change, their families and aspirations change. We see it in social settings today whereas in the past it was just in the workplace.
They say, those who predict the future must know how to chew glass. I can eat my words but I’m predicting I won’t have to.
Success always seems to come overnight whether it is people, inventions or social change.Small movements make a tsunami. A small dating application (Facebook) launched the phenomenon of social media. Amazon and EBay added e-tail to retail. Netscape launched the Internet making the transition from computing to communication. A browser application (Internet Explorer) became an Operating System and PCs made computing personal.
When I retrospect about 2015, it will be the year when bad news became good news because it engaged everyone to act to be part of the solution.
Encourage your daughter to explore science. Enroll yourself in the computer class. Form a women’s support organization. Be a mentor. Join the movement.
Neerja Raman is currently Distinguished Visiting Scholar at Stanford University after over 25 years’ experience in the industry. Motivated by the challenges and skills gap faced by women in Silicon Valley, Neerja Raman has been an advocate and mentor for technical women and has written a book on leadership in the global world. She was inducted into the Technology Hall of Fame in 2005 by Women in Technology International (WITI). She considers herself fortunate to have had parents who encouraged her to study science in school. She maintains a social entrepreneurship blog (From Good to Gold).