As a tech mom of a 14-year-old daughter, I'm innately aware of the importance of getting more girls involved in STEM. My daughter's always been bright, curious and interested in science. But she also faces peer pressure that challenges and tests her from time to time.
Last summer, on my recommendation, she took a course in computer engineering. Unfortunately, her friends weren't racing to join her. In fact, only two or three girls signed up for the class of 50 or so. To me, that set off alarm bells. Was I expecting a class filled with females? No. However, I was shocked to see that so many girls (and their parents) appeared to be opting out at such an early age.
I've conducted a lot of research in this area and it validates an issue of grave concern - a growing gender gap in technology. There's a widely acknowledged dearth of women in computing fields today, but why?
I'm deeply passionate about this issue, and I've challenged myself to turn back the trend. With support from my employer - AT&T, my colleagues in the Women of AT&T Employee Resource Group and I have launched the "GIFT - Girls in Future Technologies" program to show girls how technologies are emerging and changing companies and communities for the better.
We've developed five goals for this program that anyone can use as advice to help keep girls interested in tech careers. Here they are:
1. Break the misperceptions about tech careers. Technology is widely seen as a field reserved for the nerds who break apart computers at age nine and teach themselves how to code. Girls don't see it as a fun, creative and social subject that anyone can learn with diligence and pursue as a rewarding career with extraordinary growth opportunities.
2. Help her gain confidence. She'll do this by taking it one step at a time. Tell her not to worry if she's the only girl out there.
3. Inspire more girls to join in. Girls want to do things along with their friends, so show them how computing can be cool and fun by involving them in creating mobile apps and games.
4. Show her how tech is a rewarding career. Help girls form positive perceptions of careers and opportunities in tech that might be attractive to them by exposing them to women in Tech.
5. Fuel her intelligence. Don't let her be afraid of showing others how smart she is. She can make her life richer and make a difference in the world. Encourage her to enroll in coding and tech camps.
The gender-gap issue in the technology industry starts during those impressionable early teen years when girls are forming initial perceptions of careers and opportunities they might pursue. As adults in their lives, it's up to us to put technology and computing careers on their radar. I invite you to help us spread the message of GIFT across the nation and increase the pipeline of female students opting for tech majors in college. Together, we can turn back the trend.