The world of technology illustrates the power of ideas and how they create opportunity and transform the world. It’s heady stuff, with high-profile execs becoming celebrities, inventions changing commerce and the very fabric of society. The ability to turn sci-fi into reality is garnering big investments from venture capitalists and fueling IPO dreams.
It’s the world I’ve spent my entire career in, but unfortunately, that makes me a rarity for one simple fact: I’m a woman.
The tech sector I entered in the early ’90s is not the world of today, and I see amazing opportunities for women. We still have a long way to ensuring that women do not have to navigate the world I experienced.
After high school, I entered the computer engineering program at Carnegie Mellon University. It was a “weed out” program where only one out of every three of the 450 freshmen end up graduating. When I started the program, I was one of 3 women — and the only female to graduate.
After graduation, I moved to Oregon and joined Intel, where I was one of 2 women in a 40-person group responsible for architecting Intel’s next-generation microprocessor — exciting and important work where having a diverse team would have been helpful.
In 2008 I founded Zapproved. We weathered a tough recession and ran into roadblocks at every step of the way. When talking to investors, we were told we wouldn’t be successful at selling enterprise software and that we didn’t have the right team to build a business big enough to get a return for investors.
After hearing a lifetime’s worth of nos, I’m proud to say the naysayers were wrong and Zapproved is successful. Our products have been adopted by some of the most recognizable consumer brands, large financial institutions and well-known technology companies that span the globe. Fun fact: Our software reaches one out of every six employees in the Fortune 500.
The problem is I’m a “three percenter.” Here are a few stats to explain what I mean:
There will be 1.4 million new jobs in the computing-related fields by 2020. Less than 29% will be filled by Americans. Less than 3% of that 29% will be women. Only 3% of tech startups are formed by women. Only 3% of tech investors are women.
You see? Three percent comes up over and over, and that is a shame because it’s limiting opportunity for businesses and women alike. A 2014 Gallup study uncovered that diversity in the workforce can improve a company’s bottom line due to different market insights and viewpoints enabling better problem solving and superior performance. Today, computers are moving from archiving to thinking, and this evolution in technology is creating new opportunities.
I recently attended a lecture by Thomas Friedman, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the New York Times. He explained that this evolution in computing is changing the job market. “Nobody cares what you know, because Google knows everything. It’s about what you can do with it that counts.”
The great opportunity of our time is to take advantage of this amazing shift in technology and combine it with a genuine empathy for those who use it. This combination of technical and scientific literacy and tapping into our own humanity is what Friedman cleverly calls “STEMpathy.”
That will be far and away the most marketable job skill one can have in the next decade. This transition means that software is becoming a universal language — and I think everyone must become computer literate in order to make an impact in our world. In school we spend years teaching literacy in reading and mathematics — and now we must teach it with computers. Computer literacy is the currency of the new age.
Why are the numbers of women in tech so low? There are many explanations, but I personally think it correlates to when the personal computer first went mainstream in the 1980s and the primary application was gaming. Boys were generally more interested in gaming, so in that generation they got a head start with computers, and that led young women to believe that they weren’t as “good” at computers as the boys.
Women and men are equally competent at technology. Additionally, when it comes to STEMpathy, women have some innate advantages. There is a standardized test called Reading Mind in the Eyes that tests one’s ability to discern the emotion of another. Women consistently score higher on this test. Having a technical background generates huge economic potential. In order to compete in a global economy, we must ensure that women are encouraged, are nurtured and fully participate in these new opportunities.
We must see STEM education for all, and companies must eliminate any barriers — real or imagined — that do not fully welcome everyone. We can lead a new generation to expand women in tech from 3%, to 30%. I’m confident that over time we’ll see 50 percent, which will not only make working in tech better but our world as well.
Monica Enand is the founder and CEO of Zapproved.