We've come along way!
This week we celebrate International Day of Women ang Girls in Science. (February 11)
While I am known here as an author, I am also a woman of science, not just science fiction. I have spent the majority of my career in some form of IT (information technology). This field was originally dominated by men. That said, there are remarkable women of science. Any of these women could be an inspiration for a young girl who ponders one day what she may be. Gone are the days that a girl is encouraged to daydream of being a princess or a ballet dancer.
And that we should celebrate. We've come a long way, but still there remains a huge imbalance between men and women in STEM. STEM is a curriculum based on the idea of educating students in four specific disciplines — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — in an interdisciplinary and applied approach. Rather than teach the four disciplines as separate and discrete subjects, STEM integrates them into a cohesive learning paradigm based on real-world applications. Check out the statistics of women in this field. Some simple statistics are:
In 2020, only 25% of GAFAM’s employees are female.
57% of all professional occupations in the US for 2017 were held by women.
In 1985, 37% of all US bachelors in Computer Sciences were women.
Only 37% of tech startups have at least one woman on the board of directors.
63% of men in tech firms view their companies as equal employers regarding gender.
The ratio of men to women in engineering is 5:1.
25.5% of Google’s leaders on a global scale are women.
Why did I choose a career in IT, part of STEM? The short answer is two strong grandmothers. One taught me the value of respecting the outdoors and the joy of getting dirty while doing it. She was very much the tom-boy.
The other taught me a strong work ethic. This grandmother was widowed in 1958. Her daughter, my mother, was 13 years old and, like Jamie's mother, had to work to keep food on the table and clothes on my mother's back. In 1958 her options were not what we enjoy today. However, my grandmother, who had been orphaned at the age of 12 was not afraid of new things. She entered a dominantly man's world in search of work.
Being a determined woman, she applied for a job where she was asked, “Do you know how to use a comptometer?” My grandmother readily said, “Yes.” She got the job. If you don’t know what a comptometer is, you probably aren't alone.
She didn’t know how to use one, but that didn’t stop her from learning this dinosaur predecessor to a computer. She mastered it! She endured in a world where men dominated and there was not the social awareness we enjoy today despite the challenges women still face. She endured all manner of sexual harassment, as we would call it today. But she persevered. She had quite a few colorful stories, and many speak more to her work ethic and determination despite needless harassment. She did not retire until age 95. In that time, she always worked in jobs that traditionally “belonged” to men. In that she was proud and held a satisfaction of not backing down to the harassment. With no HR to rely on, she handled issues herself.
She was my inspiration. I was recruited for my first IT job 21 years ago. A company needed someone with non-technical skills but with softer skills, including customer service and training skills. I remembered my grandmother’s advice. I was honest in what I knew and didn’t know. I was hired. It was a win/win for me and for the company, as clearly I remain in an IT position, having been taught the technical skills by a company willing to recognize they needed help to succeed. I also joined what was then a man’s-only world to become the only woman on an all-male team. There was one other female in the office: HR. Twenty-one years ago, my teammates struggled to come to terms with a woman on the team. I was accepted equally on some levels, but that didn’t stop my manager (and his manager) at the time to forget it wasn’t a locker room. I, too, have stories I could share. More than once I found myself in awkward positions, but I remembered I had it better than my grandmother and I could do this.
There are still challenges to be overcome, but we’ve come a long way from 1958 and the harassment my grandmother tolerated because she needed a job. She had a kid to feed. My mom!
We’ve also come a long way from 21 years ago and the open locker room language and behavior I experienced. I was part of the team but different. That behavior would not be tolerated today.
I look forward to seeing what women just joining IT can do. Women like my grandmother helped pave the way. Of that I am proud.