Making Tech Her Story: Increasing Girls' Interest in IT

With today’s youth growing up as digital natives, it may come as a surprise that girls’ interest in technology jobs lowers by 30 percent after they enter high school. For those girls who are uninterested in tech careers, 69 percent attribute not knowing where career opportunities are as a main factor for their waning interest.

That analysis comes from a new e-book on girls’ interest in STEM careers from CompTIA, a nonprofit trade association. “Make Tech Her Story: What Needs to Change to Inspire Girls’ Pursuit of IT Careers” argues that early interaction with technology, more information about job opportunities and support from parents all play key roles in keeping girls interested in pursuing tech careers, especially IT careers. The e-book and companion website are part of a larger campaign titled “Rebranding Rosie the Riveter” that rallies to make the IT industry more inclusive of women. THE Journal asked CompTIA Director of Corporate Communications Steve Ostrowski about the study, including what educators can do to inform young women more effectively about career opportunities in the tech industry.

THE Journal: Can you start by providing some background on the research? What are some of the most important insights or trends that emerged from this new study?

Steve Ostrowski: Conversations about creating gender parity in IT professions are not new, but they are increasing in frequency. Industry leaders, educators and the media recognize that attracting women to the field depends largely on encouraging them to think about technology subjects and careers at a young age. But beyond making this connection, few have uncovered specific reasons why girls are not drawn to IT. We conducted focus groups and a survey to gain some insight into why this is, and we identified several critical factors.

First and foremost, parents play a key role in introducing technology. Girls and boys agree that parents and guardians are the primary source for finding out about careers.

Another trend is that girls’ interest in technology lessens with age. Among middle school girls, 27 percent have considered a career in technology. By high school this figure drops to 18 percent.

We also learned that tech classes alone aren’t enough. Girls who have taken a technology class are only slightly (32 percent) more likely to have considered an IT career. Less than half of girls who have taken these courses are confident their skills are right for the job. The high school curriculum of today is all about college prep, and hands-on technology skills are no longer seen as college prep. Programs in hardware-focused tech skills have been eliminated or relegated to after-school programs.

Of girls who have not considered an IT career, 69 percent attribute this to not knowing what opportunities are available to them. More than half (53 percent) say additional information about career options would encourage them to consider a job in IT. When it comes to careers, kids want to understand why you love what you do. We are not doing a good job in the tech industry of telling kids why we love what we do.

Lastly, the most important lesson we’ve learned through the research is the importance of role models in the process of choosing a career. Just 37 percent of girls know of someone with an IT job. This rises to 60 percent among girls who have considered an IT career.

THEJ: What are some possible reasons that girls become less interested in tech jobs after entering high school?

Ostrowski: The factors I just mentioned all contribute to their dwindling interest. In addition, when girls are not exposed to the technology at an early age, they will find other interests and curiosities to fill their time. If a tech-themed class does not interest or inspire them, they are less likely to enroll in another class. Without role models or, at a minimum, information about job opportunities, they will look to other fields when they start to focus and hone in on potential career options.

THEJ: How can educators integrate technology more effectively in the classroom to encourage girls to enter tech majors/careers?

Ostrowski: As a starting point, encourage students to use the digital resources available to them when completing assignments, homework and projects. That does not mean using Wikipedia as the sole source for information when researching a paper. But the more comfortable young people are using apps and collaboration tools, the better prepared they will be when they enter the workforce, whether it’s in tech or some other field.

Look for opportunities to engage with tech businesses and professionals in your community. They can be a great resource for learning how businesses use technology today, and how that can be translated into the way tech courses are taught. The tech community can also provide the role models and mentors that are so lacking. A list of roles and responsibilities about a particular job only goes so far. When it comes to careers, kids want real-life stories from people who can convey their passion about their occupation —  why they love what they do.

THEJ: What can educators do to more effectively teach young women about career opportunities in the tech industry?

Ostrowski: If your students do not believe technology is a viable career choice, ask them to make a list of all the times they interact with technology during the course of a day. We’re seeing the emergence of new occupations that require a heavy dose of tech knowledge and skills but are not easily categorized into traditional job categories. So far from stagnating or under-performing, tech occupations continue to be in strong demand across the economy.

In Q3 2016, there were more than 600,000 total IT job postings in the United States. Software and application developers, computer systems engineers and architects, IT project managers, computer systems analysts and computer user support specialists were among the most in-demand positions companies were looking to fill. And while not every job posting will result in a new hire, this data is a strong indicator of where employers are focusing their technology investments.

Many of these jobs come with salaries well above the average annual wage in the private sector. Tech industry workers earned an average wage of $105,400, which is 104 percent more than the U.S. average private sector wage, according to CompTIA’s Cyberstates 2016 report. Every state in the union has technology workers earning significantly more than the average private sector worker.

Today’s tech workforce needs individuals with great curiosity, creativity, personality and versatility. More than ever, companies value employees who think strategically, communicate effectively and thrive when working collaboratively. People who understand how to use technology to meet business goals, and who can articulate this understanding, are golden in the eyes of employers.

About the Author

Sri Ravipati is Web producer for THE Journal and Campus Technology. She can be reached at [email protected].