• Women 2.0 HowTo Conference San Francisco, September 30 - October 1, 2014

Stop Leaning, Start Building

BuildingBlocks

The real reason we need more women in tech.

By Daria Lombroso (The Future Project)

Diversity

There’s no arguing that it’s important. A range of experiences to draw from can only strengthen the final outcome of any one endeavor. When different perspectives are applied to one problem, the conversation is enriched and the initial thesis is challenged time and time again. In my mind, this applies to diversity of all kinds, in all fields.

I work around technology and have been exploring the conversation around women in the tech space. I’ve long been a proponent of female empowerment, believing from a young age that I could do anything the boys could do. I’m fortunate in that way. In part, I have been echoing the women in tech conversation purely because of my explicit place within this community. But it’s much bigger than that.

I don’t care about women in tech because it’s a conversation within my industry. I care because of the power this industry has over fostering and enabling massive global change.

Disruption

It’s a word that’s been beaten to a pulp over the last several years. When we talk about the evolution of technology and the effects that new innovations are having on legacy organizations, disruption is the buzzword of choice. It’s time for the tech world to shift its perspective inwards, and apply the same logic of disruption to effect real social change.

If you are willing to accept that technologists are the driving force of innovation, and thereby change, and that innovation encapsulates not only the immediacy of the tools and features created by said technology, but all that it touches, then you recognize the immense importance of this period we are currently experiencing. We’re living through a revolution of sorts.

You should also then recognize the real reason why women need to rise up and disrupt the tech industry. This is the opportunity to end the gender balance conversation — those who invent are in a position to lead. We need a more diverse set of world leaders, and we have the chance to build it from the ground up.

The magic of it all is that things happen fast in the digital world. Equal representation amongst tech leaders can act as a catalyst for actual global change. If there is any industry that can realize this mission quickly, it’s this one. We can’t just have a conversation about gender balance — we need to talk about how diversity in tech affects social change at the most granular level.

Looking Back

Innovations in digital technology have shifted human behaviors. Adults in the U.S. now spend upwards of five hours a day staring at glowing screens, and that’s just an average. More time spent on machines means that we’ve had to adapt our behaviors to reflect the processes that accompany each device. When it comes to the adult population, it’s been a period of learning and change. But our youth are now born digital. They are growing up in a technophilic world where swiping an iPad screen feels more natural and is more entertaining than playing in a sandbox.

What other human behaviors can we affect through future inventions and advances? The female perspective is important not only for the market value of providing a point of view relevant to the majority consumer base, but also because there are behaviors that need to shift in order for gender equality to exist — not only in the privileged world, but globally, across a variety of conditions.

If women are at the forefront of innovation, there is a greater opportunity for the behaviors of humankind to shift in a way that favors gender equality.

Building It

Rather than fighting the existing infrastructure and trying to climb the corporate ladder, we need to be thinking about how to get women to invent the products behind the next Amazon or Google, and lead from the start.

The need is real.

After Apple was criticized by shareholders for only having one female on its board of directors, the company vowed to shift the balance. It’s been two months and we’re still waiting.

“We live in an increasingly complex global marketplace, and the companies that can hire, attract and retain women and people of color are better equipped to capitalize on global opportunities and avoid missteps that may not be apparent to a more homogeneous group,” Larisa Ruoff of the Sustainability Group said.

We need to reach a place where gender balance is a norm, not a conversation. As a society, there are several hurdles we still need to overcome. The good news is we can get there faster than ever before. But, in order to get to the future state of equality, we need more female entrepreneurs and more female programmers now.

Unfortunately, we’re still fighting against gender norms and stereotypes imposed on individuals at a young age. We know that this is a chicken and egg type conundrum: If we don’t educate girls to believe that STEM courses are worthwhile and cool, we can’t foster a future generation of female technologists. If we don’t have female technologists as role models, we can’t change the dialogue around young girls’ participation in STEM coursework. Companies like GoldieBlox and organizations such as Girls Who Code are making great strides in support of this effort.

What is also promising is that women and men are already paid equally in the tech industry.

Programming is a skill that we need, and women are finally leveling the population of students in computer science classes.

But leadership is still wildly imbalanced. According to a recent NPR piece, we’re leaps and bounds away from progress.

“The numbers on women in the tech industry are so out of whack that ladies register in the single digits: Women account for just six percent of the chief executives of the top 100 tech companies, according to the National Center for Women and Information Technology. And a New York Times count found that only eight percent of venture-backed startups are founded by women.”  —  Elise Hu

There are countless nuances that surround this issue, and make it immensely difficult to dissect.

But here’s what’s exciting. Since women don’t have a present majority as tech CEOs, there’s an inevitable gap in the perspectives of those seeking to disrupt industry verticals. We don’t yet have the diversity required to satisfy the world’s needs. It’s time to seize that opportunity.

The leaders of tomorrow are being created today. And they are not rising up in the ranks of big businesses, or crossing t’s and dotting i’s on White House scripts. The leaders of tomorrow are building the future they want to see, one line of code or entrepreneurial endeavor at a time. They’re sitting in their parent’s basements staring at screens, toying with Arduino boards, and creating startups while still in school. They’re a little bit crazy, and a lot dedicated to their individual purpose.

Let’s stop leaning, and start building the future we want to lead.

This post originally appeared on Medium.

Why do you think we need women in tech?

DariaLombroso

About the guest blogger: Daria Lombroso is an artist, writer and changemaker based in Brooklyn, NY. She currently works for The Future Project, an education initiative that empowers young people to pursue their dreams and passions. Daria brings her experience working in technology and the arts in order to drive new initiatives around education and innovation.