DALLAS -- Women in Comms -- As the number of jobs requiring technology skills goes up, the percentage of women in computer science is actually shrinking. Fixing that will require investing in programs aimed at younger girls and supporting women in the workplace in a variety of ways, a panel of female executives said Wednesday at Light Reading's Women in Comms breakfast panel.
The payoff will be significant for the businesses that succeed on this front, not only for the women they hire but for the companies themselves.
"Having women at the table helps change the culture, to get everyone's voices heard," said Monique Hayward, director of outbound marketing for the Network Platforms Group of Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC), which also sponsored the breakfast. "Men and women are more successful overall when they work together; we need both at the table."
That is going to take "intentional programs," noted keynote speaker Brooks McCorcle, president of AT&T Partner Solutions. AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) has such programs in place, including an Employee Resource Group (ERG) of women employees -- its largest ERG -- that now numbers 20,000 members. It also takes support for education programs for girls, she said. Those are actions that any company can take.
The other critical steps involve mentoring and encouraging girls to embrace STEM, or science, technology, engineering and math, while in school. As a number of Wednesday's speakers noted, research shows girls start off with similar interests and competencies in these areas to boys, but that begins to change in later school years.
The percentage of women in computer science has actually fallen to less than 20% of the total student population, according to Nancy Green, Healthcare Global Lead for Verizon Enterprise Solutions .
Given that it's projected the industry will need 1.7 million new STEM people in the US in the coming years, it becomes important to everyone to get more women involved, McCorcle said. It's possible for anyone to get involved in encouraging female students. "You can find even small ways -- mentor girls; talk to groups of girls," she suggested.
All four panelists agreed, however, that companies who wish to have a female-friendly company need to make strategic changes in the way they recruit, train, reward and retain women. Support for that kind of change has to start at the top, which it does at Verizon, Green said.
Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam is "very pro-woman, pro-diversity" and backs that up with funding through the company's foundations for multiple programs with Girl Scouts and Girls Who Code, among others.
Having that "amen" from the top is crucial, Green and Hayward agreed, and getting buy-in at the bottom is always usually doable, because that is where women are living the reality of being in the minority of tech workers.
"That middle layer is tough," Green said, noting that in some cases, mentoring programs are started but lack sufficient backing. "Why should it be hard to get into a mentoring program?"
Today's female executives need to step up as mentors, Bita Milanian, senior vice presdient of marketing communications at Genband Inc. , said, but so do men. "Everyone needs to take ownership within their role for how they can make a difference," she commented.
One of the potential tools that didn't earn the panel's support was the use of quotas, to ensure more women are hired. "It's about the right person for the right job," Green said.
But it is possible to bring flexibility to jobs and make other cultural changes that make women more comfortable -- in addition to the obvious step of recognizing and rewarding them when they succeed.
— Carol Wilson, Editor-at-Large, Light Reading