Creating A Rosier Future For Women In Tech

Images of Rosie the Riveter celebrated the vital jobs women held in previous unlikely areas such as munitions factories and shipyards during World War II. The Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA) recently resurrected Rosie as an IT worker for a multipronged campaign aimed at making the tech industry more gender-inclusive.

On the #MakeTechHerStory Web site, girls are invited to “reimagine” Rosie by choosing from palettes for skin color, hair, eyes, lips, shirt and background. Then they are asked to share their avatar on social media to show girls everywhere that anyone —regardless of gender, race or age — can work in IT.

According to the site, "Today’s Rosie is building mobile applications and managing cybersecurity systems.” But there clearly are not enough "Rosies" doing so. At the end of 2015, women held just 25% of 5.1 million core technology jobs, CompTIA says. More surprisingly, the percentage of women in the field has been eroding. In 1991, 36% of the IT sector’s workforce were women; in 2015, 34%.



Over the summer, CompTIA conducted quantitative and qualitative research through the Blackstone Group to determine the technology habits, awareness of IT and perceptions of IT careers of girls and boys between 10 and 17. Besides a survey of 400 ’tweens and teens equally represented by gender, it held four focus groups with a total of 37 girls.

The results -- for example, 11% of boys use mobile devices at 5 years old or younger vs. 5% of girls -- are published in a downloadable e-book meant to educate parents, teachers and other influencers.

A companion short video kicks off with women such as the six “ENIAC Girls” who were prominent in tech back at the dawn of IT and features telling excerpts from the focus groups. “Maybe [boys] feel they can do it just because they’ve been able to have those opportunities their entire lives,” says one young woman.

The research also informed the shape of the Web site and the direction of its efforts on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. We asked Kelly Mahoney, senior social media manager at CompTIA, about the social aspects of the effort.

Has Rosie resonated with young girls?
Our goal with #MakeTechHerStory, which we’ve affectionately referred to as the Rosie campaign, was to leverage what girls told us about how they viewed careers in STEM [science, technology, engineering and fathematics] fields to highlight the problem at hand: in the face of a dire skills gap, fewer and fewer girls are choosing potentially lucrative careers in IT. The researched showed us that 63% of girls don’t know someone who works in IT. With this initiative, we’re asking women across the world and our industry to show girls what a person in tech looks like.

But the campaign is targeting more than just girls …
The movement is not just about girls, but also about the influencers in their lives. Teachers, parents and other role models have the ability to sway perception. We want to give them the tools they need to inspire girls to explore careers in tech.

How are you trying to reach each segment?
A very interesting result of this campaign for me personally was seeing how many people in my network are passionate about gender equality in tech. From a high school friend in London to a contact from a presentation I did years ago, my network has risen to this occasion. We’ve received tweets and avatars from reporters, moms, bloggers, board members and enthusiastic supporters.

What has been the response on social media, in particular, from each of these groups?
What’s been enlightening and reaffirming has been reading comments from women in tech and how they got there. They cite a parent, teacher or relative who introduced them to careers in tech. I also read a comment from a woman in her 40s who had just started her path towards a career in IT, who shared that it’s never too late to #MakeTechHerStory.

How can you keep the momentum going on social?
Social can be fickle, and keeping any campaign alive beyond the attention span of your audience requires finesse. We’re working on more video elements, as they’ve inspired the most comments from our audience. We’re also looking at ways we can showcase women in tech at their workplaces via Facebook Live to show more girls how diverse a career in tech can be. Finally, we’re hosting a @CompTIA tweetchat at noon CST Nov. 17 to explore how women got into IT, and what their typical workday looks like.

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