By Dr. Jane LeClair (Dean, School of Business and Technology, Excelsior College)
Fifty-six percent of women working in technology vanish from their field in mid-career. That’s 56 percent.

Think about that number for a second. For every woman entering a tech field such as engineering or software development after college graduation, there is a higher chance she will leave the profession than she will finish her career. It’s really no wonder, then, that men hold nearly four out of five technology jobs. The industry will never achieve robust diversity until we figure out how to retain the women in their chosen technological fields.

I believe this is a symptom of a growing inability for women to negotiate the “glass maze,” which I describe as “seeing” available positions open at all levels but being unable to maneuver through the web of prerequisite positions, interviews, qualifications comparisons, time in grade and other confusing practices typically perpetuated within the “good ole boy” culture of high technology.

Noted academics Nadya A. Fouad and Romila Singh describe this dynamic as “a variety of supports and barriers in the workplace that [are] structural, cultural and behavioral in nature.”

The fact is, if we don’t act to change this right here in Tech Valley, we place our own region’s technological future at risk.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts significant growth in technology jobs over the next decade. By 2018, demand for nuclear power technicians is expected to grow by 19 percent. There will be an anticipated 1.4 million new computer specialist jobs.

Here in the Capital Region, the arrival of GlobalFoundries and ancillary companies has generated considerable work force optimism. With increased state investment, and the growth of the University of Albany’s College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering and of General Electric, high-tech workers will be an increasingly sought-after commodity.

But if this projected growth becomes a reality, which it should, the number of women in technology fields will have to increase to fill the gap — not just here, but across the nation. The onus is on both educators and industry to find the solutions.

Excelsior College’s School of Business & Technology is investigating a number of female recruitment strategies, including establishing female role model programs and mentorships for students and mentors. The college is seeking industry sponsorships as well as forming academic and industry support groups for alumni.

Of course, the hard work of higher education institutions will be meaningless unless industry can uncover the root cause of the exodus of women from technology, determine solutions and apply them. From my own two decades of experience as a trainer at a nuclear power plant, I believe female retention and success must begin with an honest assessment of the company’s culture.

In fact, I echo researcher David Hunt, who argued that while women “face the same issues of promotion and career opportunities that their male counterparts have … they are compounded by a culture that causes women to have issues of [self-competence in regards to work responsibilities] and other issues related to a male dominated culture.”

Nevertheless, we must remember that there are no “one-size-fits all” solutions, since there is no single cause for women leaving tech fields. But I believe we can engender large changes through small moments of progress. For us, that means raising awareness to this issue at the local level and working together to brainstorm micro-solutions.

We won’t solve it overnight. But to meet this challenge and compete in the 21st century global economy, higher education institutions and capital region industry must work in unison to develop a tech work force that is nurtured for a lifetime of success — regardless of gender.

This post was originally posted at Times Union.

Photo credit: Ulrike Schultze
Editor’s note: Got a question for our guest blogger? Leave a message in the comments below.
About the guest blogger: Dr. Jane LeClair is the Dean of the school of Business and Technology at Excelsior College in Albany, New York and continues to collaborate with the nuclear industry. Dr. Jane LeClair worked in the nuclear industry for Constellation Energy for 20 years. She served as Chair of the Education and Training Division and the American Society of Engineering Education, where she was Region Chair of St. Lawrence Section of ASEE and worked with International Atomic Energy Agency.