image of girl jumping into STEM future

Want to Make Tech Culture More Gender Inclusive? You Need to Start Early

To reap the benefits of gender equality, tech companies should invest in the pipeline of highly qualified talent. 

The tech sector has long suffered from poor gender equality. Women are severely under-represented at major tech companies, and in the US, only 14% of engineers and 25% of IT professionals are women.

This is a global problem. Cheryl Miller Van Dyck of the Digital Leadership Institute reports that women around the world are 1) less likely to be online, 2) more likely to have low digital skills, and 3) more likely to be economically excluded by digital disruption as a result.

Making the matter even more urgent, the digital industrial revolution is creating a serious jobs gap. According to research by GE, the U.S. will need to fill 2 million engineering and computing jobs within the next ten years.

Increased participation of women in the workforce isn’t only a pressing need—it’s also an immense opportunity. According to a recent report by GE, companies with a gender-diverse workforce perform 53% better than their less diverse peers. MIT economists found that a gender shift could increase revenue by 41%.

“The percentage of women in the workforce can have a significant impact on GDP growth,” says Elyse Allan, President and CEO of GE Canada. “Labour is a key component of economic prosperity. A workforce that includes women therefore contributes directly to the GDP.” According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, closing the gender gap could increase GDP by up to 10% by 2030.

Companies have an important role to play in making this a reality. For example, GE recently announced that it will hire 5,000 more women in STEM roles for a total of 20,000 by 2020, to reach its goal of 50-50 gender parity for all its technical entry-level programs.

But to succeed at attaining diversity targets, says Allan, the company must focus on expanding its pipeline to create a wider pool of highly qualified talent.  

One way that GE improves its pipeline is by letting colleges and universities know that the company prefers recruiting from schools with a strong percentage of women. “When schools start to hear that, they go into their communities and start encouraging more women to apply,” says Allan.

But to really ensure a good flow of talented technology workers, GE reaches all the way back to grade school. For the last ten years, the company has supported Actua, a national charity in Canada that brings STEM education to young people and girls by making science fun and engaging. The program touches over 200,000 young people each year.

When it comes to pipelines, you can’t beat this one: “We actually have young people who participated in the [Actua] camps as children, then helped run the camps in university, were recruited to work GE, and now volunteer with Actua through the GE partnership,” says Allan.

Clearly, supporting gender diversity pays dividends—not just for the countries and companies that invest in better representation, but for the individuals who work to make equality a reality.

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