The Gender Agenda: Government Support for Women in Tech is Vital

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To achieve true equality, women need government to help make their demands a reality. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand champions change in tech, education and in government itself. By Sarah Martin (CEO, Boone Martin)

When I was a kid, the 4th of July meant fireworks and bomb pops. I didn’t really get what Independence Day was all about until I started learning our story.

It wasn’t a perfect launch and there were serious challenges along the way. Many of these still remain, and while I’ve moved on from the bomb pops, I do still watch the fireworks and take a minute each year to check in with how we’re doing today.

Talking With Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY)

This year, I spoke with New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, my state representative and the leading national advocate for equal opportunity for women. Senator Gillibrand has been working on leveling the playing field by closing the gender pay gap, increasing STEM education and getting more women involved in tech.

I asked her about her progress so far and where we need more attention in the year ahead.

Equal Opportunities

July 4th is a day when we celebrate the US and the American Dream. All Americans aspire to achieve this dream, but not all have equal opportunity to get there. What are some of the gaps you see?

I believe that empowering women is the key to a growing economy and a thriving middle class.  That means we must prepare young women today with opportunities to excel in the fields that will define the economy of our future – like science, technology, engineering and math.

We need young women today to be the ones who develop the next big ideas that spark new businesses that create the jobs of the future.

Even with women earning the majority of college and graduate degrees and representing nearly half of our workforce, less than 20 percent graduate with engineering degrees and only 26 percent make up the STEM workforce. African Americans and Hispanics together represent about 30 percent of our workforce, but make up only seven percent of scientists and engineers.

Today, women make up more than half of America’s population – and nearly half the workforce. Women are out-earning men in college degrees and advanced degrees – and are a growing share of primary household earners.

But to this day, men are still out-earning women in wages for the same work. On average, women earn 77 cents for every dollar a man earns – and even less for women of color. African American women earn 69 cents on the dollar, and Latinas earn just 58 cents on that dollar.

This has to change. When women earn equal pay, America’s GDP could grow by as much as four percent almost overnight.

We only have 17 percent women in Congress. Less than three percent of CEOs of Fortune 500 companies are women, and only 16 percent of Fortune 500 corporate board members are women – even as studies show the more diverse a board, the better return on investment.

We must turn this around, which is why it's my goal to get women off the sidelines and engaged in the issues that they're passionate about, whether that means voting, getting involved in a campaign, writing their elected officials, running for office themselves or simply using their own megaphones to influence the debate.

Keeping up With The Competition

The US remains a leading global superpower. But as the world increasingly shifts towards a knowledge economy, how do we remain competitive with rising nations like China and India that graduate five times as many engineers as the US?

Our nation is home to the greatest colleges and universities and the world’s most innovative minds. But if we’re going to compete and win in the global economy, we must ensure that every hardworking student has the opportunity to excel in the fields that will define the economy of our future. That starts with getting more talented young people into the STEM pipeline.

Currently, eight of nine of the fastest growing industries require math and science proficiency.

Girls, minorities and students in underserved communities are disproportionately underrepresented in STEM fields, setting them back from leading in high-tech careers.

My bill called the STEM Gateways Act would help create a grant program for elementary, middle and high schools. Schools are encouraged to partner with local colleges, nonprofits, and businesses to bolster innovative programs designed to develop the skills that young women, underrepresented minorities and students of all economic backgrounds will need to be competitive in the workforce today and for years to come.

To spark greater interest in science and engineering among all of our students, I introduced legislation called the Educating Tomorrow’s Engineers Act, which would require states to make engineering skills part of their curriculum, provide instructor training to teach engineering effectively, and allow schools to target more federal resources toward engineering programs.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, by 2020 one in every two STEM jobs will be in computing and there will be 1.4 million jobs in computer science and only 400,000 students with a computer science degree.

To help meet this need, I introduced the Computer Science Career Education Act, which would encourage the development of computer science programs to train our students jobs in the computer science sector.

Helping us Help Others

Much of what defines the American spirit is the strength of our communities. How can we get involved in supporting women and advancing STEM at the local, or national, level?

Without a doubt, if given a fair shot, women will be the ones who ignite our economy and lead America’s middle class revival. When women are at the decision making table, the outcomes are better. My own experience in Congress is when women are on committees and at the table, the nature of the discussion is different.

In 2011, I started a campaign called Off The Sidelines as a nationwide call to action to encourage more women to have their voices heard on the issues they are passionate about, because there are decisions being made every day about every aspect of our lives, and if women don’t participate, they may not like what they find.

Want to get involved? Check out Off The Sidelines to see how you can support women in your community. We all can make a difference in empowering women to create a more equitable and prosperous tomorrow.

Photo credit via Kirsten Gillibrand's website

If you could make just one change to support women in tech, what would it be?


About the guest blogger: Sarah Martin is the CEO of Boone Martin, a global communications firm. Sarah’s excited about how technology impacts economic growth. Get in touch and follow along at @sboonemartin.