(BPT) - Virtual reality headsets, super sophisticated smartphones and 4K TVs with images as sharp as the view through a clean window - technology just keeps getting more amazing. Don't forget, however, that behind all that awesome technology are the people who are innovating and producing it. The tech industry is no longer comprised of a handful of introverts and math whizzes, it's now made up of millions of dreamers who believe in a small idea's potential to achieve global impact.
But while more students are taking an interest in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), and pursuing tech careers, the diversity of the technology workforce lags behind the industry's pace of innovation. Although women have made great strides in other industries, they are still poorly represented in STEM careers, including tech. In fact, in 2013 women ages 25 to 34 were 21 percent more likely than men to be college graduates and 48 percent more likely to have gone to graduate school, according to a report by the presidential Council of Economic Advisors. Yet women account for only a quarter of the tech industry workforce.
'To cultivate and sustain diverse perspectives and expand the pipeline of IT talent, women must feel welcome in the industry, whether they're writing code or leading the next IT startup in Silicon Valley,' says Charity Jennings, program dean for the University of Phoenix's College of Information Systems and Technology. 'Cultivating an interest in tech fields needs to start at a young age. It's critical to get our young women engaged and excited about becoming future engineers, web develops, tech entrepreneurs and executives.'
Increasing the number of women participating in tech fields won't just improve the industry, it can greatly benefit the women themselves. Between now and 2020, 1.4 million computer science jobs are projected to be available in the U.S., according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), but only 400,000 students will be enrolled in computer science programs. The computer programming field is growing at twice the national average compared to other industries, according to BLS data, and that means women who train in tech-related subjects will find ample opportunities to pursue in the industry.
'A recent study by the non-profit organization Code.org found that nine out of 10 high schools in the U.S. don't offer computer science classes, and that's profoundly troubling,' says Jennings. 'Moreover, the same study found that half of all U.S. states don't count computer science toward high school graduation math or science requirements. How can we expect to produce the next generation of technology leaders, let alone encourage females to pursue careers in tech, if kids don't get the opportunity in school to take computer science courses?'
Working together, says Jennings, educators, corporations, policy makers, community leaders and parents can help nurture young women's interest in tech careers.
'Large technology-based firms can increase their efforts to recruit, train and mentor a more diverse workforce,' she says. 'Strides have already been made. Girls Who Code is a nonprofit organization that works to inspire and equip high school girls with the skills they need to pursue tech careers. Google also offers scholarships for 1,000 women to learn code.'
Colleges and universities can work to educate students about the diverse career path opportunities available in IT. University of Phoenix, for example, offers courses in Information Systems and Technology to provide students with technical and organizational skills, as well as give them an understanding of core business concepts. Students interested in technology as well as other fields, like business or health care, can work toward concentrations or certificates in these areas.
Finally, Jennings says, parents can encourage their daughters to engage in STEM-related activities, study STEM subjects and explore the many tech-related career opportunities available to them.
'In the last 100 years, women have made significant advances in the workplace, but more can be done,' she says. 'By working together, we can break through the barriers and elevate women in the tech space. The future of innovation and technology depends on it!'