Businesses Need a Culture that Supports Women with a Passion for Technology

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anjali_norwoodIn this special guest feature, Anjali Norwood, Co-founding Engineer at Arcadia Data, discusses the importance of getting girls involved in STEM at an early age, and ways to foster a culture of female empowerment in tech companies today. Anjali Norwood is a Database Architect and Founding Engineer at Arcadia Data, a unified visual analytics and business intelligence platform for Big Data native to Hadoop. Her team is responsible for building a high performance, robust and scalable engine to serve queries against massive amounts of data. Eliminating barriers to talent in the workplace is a core value for Arcadia Data. Anjali is one of three female co-founding engineers at Arcadia, and roughly 30 percent of Arcadia’s engineering team is comprised of women. Prior to joining Arcadia Data, Anjali worked on improving performance of SQL MapReduce functions using collaborative planning at Aster Data (Teradata).

The tech industry is booming and yet it’s faced with an unprecedented labor shortage. Technology companies across the country are having a difficult time finding and retaining strong talent, causing organizations to miss out on insights and innovation. The Economic Policy Institute estimates that by 2020, there will be millions of new jobs in STEM, data analytics and a range of computer disciplines. However, the U.S. Department of Commerce report that the number of female computer science majors has dropped from one in three to one in five in the last 30 years. And yet we’re still only drawing from half the talent pool.

So, what can individuals and organizations do to stop this shortage of females in technology? As a woman in big data, there are a few things I’ve gleaned on my journey that can make a difference in stoking a passion for technology in young girls – specifically, that lead to a career in Math, Science and Technology – and then keeping women in the field once they start.

Get girls involved in STEM at an early age

Girls and boys alike are naturally curious at a young age. Math and science are interesting at first and then oftentimes, a shift occurs. In fact, roughly 66 percent of 4th grade girls say they like math and science, but only an alarming 18 percent of engineering majors are female. Perhaps it’s due to the notion that being a smart girl is not considered cool. In order to move past this, we as a society, especially teachers and parents, need to foster a cultural change, one that shatters the illusion that girls cannot be both intelligent and well-liked. It’s critical for us to support and encourage our children to follow their passions, regardless of gender stereotypes.

In my own experience, disengagement sometimes comes from how we position STEM activities. For example, when I watch children play, the girls in the group often take natural roles as helpers. If you tell them, “Build this software, and it’s going to help the local library, or the local senior center,” they may be more easily motivated and creative. Perhaps we have to look at these motivators and use them to encourage girls to unlock their passion for learning and sticking with STEM skills.

Groups that cater to young girls with an interest in STEM provide an encouraging platform to learn important tech skills at an early age. One example is Girls Who Code, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to closing the gender gap in technology. GWC holds coding camps exclusively for girls in junior high and high school, providing a safe and empowering environment for girls to explore all they can build with their coding skills.

Make connections

Networking is essential to building a thriving career. However, networking isn’t always as simple for women as it is for men. Being a minority in the office and at industry events can be difficult, oftentimes excluding females from full participation.

A study conducted by and McKinsey & Co shows women have fewer ties to colleagues and connections that can help them grow their careers. In fact, the data found that while 17 percent of senior male executives had the aid of four or more executives to advance their careers, only 10 percent of senior female executives had the same support.

Making connections at industry events – whether it be a women in tech happy hour, or a panel discussion of female entrepreneurs – can help to foster an empowered community of intelligent women. Groups like Women in Big Data, an organization I recently joined in the Bay Area, are an excellent way to bring women together to brainstorm and discuss the issues that we face in the workplace, while providing a platform to share solutions. These also second as great recruiting opportunities. Bringing smart women together in one place can open doors for employers and employees alike.

Foster a culture of female empowerment

Women are all too often held to the same standards they were centuries ago; they’re responsible for taking care of the household and the children, all while maintaining a full time job in their field. Too many companies lack the necessary support to encourage women to be successful at work and at home. It all boils down to the culture – it has to be supportive. This goes for everyone within the workplace. By equipping employees of both genders with policies and support, such as in-office day care or flex hours, companies can help alleviate some of the stress and pressure of personal lives, allowing employees to excel in their careers.

I was personally able to find an organization that strives for equality in the big data industry. In fact, three of the four co-founding engineers – myself included – are women. This was one of my top priorities when seeking a company to work for, and a large part of what keeps me there. I have always felt well respected in the company of my colleagues, my thoughts and opinions are valued, and I am supported by the people around me.

Caring about women in technology is a critical step on our path to fully utilizing 100 percent of the talent pool. A level of respect that conveys a company’s desire to make the technology world a welcoming place for girls is necessary to closing the gender gap and providing equal opportunities for all.

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