Tech Chasm

One of the topics I think needs more coverage and more solutions, is the shortage of women and minorities in tech jobs.  If you look at a graph of people who hold tech jobs, women and minorities are represented in the valleys and white males represent the highest peaks, hence we have a tech chasm. Though we’ve been seeing a lot of articles in various publications about this issue, with lots of suggestions and ideas, we’re a long way off from creating a dramatic improvement and closing that gap.
Among the biggest reasons for the low numbers of women and minorities is the lack of tech oriented role models that impact young women and minorities during their formative years.  The fantasy and science fiction characters portrayed by women in movies and on television are very cool, but most are immediately recognizable as unreal, and don’t “ring true” to young minds.  Also, because watching movies and television are passive activities, there is no way for a young mind to really feel engaged in the possibilities that technology jobs can offer, whether they’re portrayed by Earthly humans or other bipedal species.
On the other hand, with the aid of creative teachers and the right tools, young women and minorities can be exposed to projects and ideas that are more tangible and engaging, demonstrating concepts and inviting active participation.  As the Maker Movement grows and gains traction in the schools, there will be more opportunities for interactive participation.  Hands-on projects must be brought into classrooms.  Adult women and minorities with exciting tech careers must also be brought into the classroom to illustrate possibilities and provide insight so youngsters can see possible roles for themselves in tech jobs.  Only then will the older stereotypes suggesting women and minorities don’t belong in tech be crushed.
Further, I also believe that parents need to be more participative in opening the minds of their children by opening themselves up to new idea, technologies, and showing more diversified examples of success to their children.  They must be exposed to concepts, careers and ideas of success that they may not get in school.  When parents see their children “admiring” someone with an intriguing tech career – movies, tv or real world –  are the parents asking the right questions?  “What do you think of a career doing _____?”  “Is that something you think you’d like to do?”  And, “If that’s a job you think is interesting, do you want to find out how to achieve the same thing?”
Many parents still want their children to follow in their footsteps care-wise. The parental influence should be strong, but should not be to the exclusion of helping their kids see the diversity of role models available outside the home.  And these days, there are many successful women and minorities in technology who can be held up as examples of achievement, accomplishment and possibility.
Kids need to see real world scenarios involving adults who are excited by what they do and whose enthusiasm is palpable.  And when that exposure comes directly from a parent, that impact will be heightened by the child’s better understanding of their parent’s work, the importance of that job, and the contributions they make.  The real trick is for a parent to help their child see the possibilities yet allow the child to choose their own path and make their own career choices.
But in order for the exposure to have the most long-term and positive impact, those examples must continue to be presented through high school and into college.  Many students have no idea what they want to do with their lives when they enter college; some, not even after graduation.  Frequent and diversified career days, and “days of job shadowing” that allow students to actually see and connect with people performing a wide variety of tech jobs, can be the impetus an undecided mind needs to pursue a career in tech.
The tech companies also have a responsibility to help fill that chasm by making their jobs more attractive, interesting and engaging to new hires.  Businesses must be willing to offer incentives to attract women and minorities who have the needed skills, but they must also be willing to provide training to those interested in learning those skills on the job.  Not everything can be learned in a classroom before a potential hire leaves school, so it’s up to the employers to fill that gap by highlighting the contributions that can be made.
Equality in the tech sector is achievable!  Parents, students and business must all be more aggressive in helping to fill that tech chasm.  And if you have ideas about how to fill the tech chasm, I’d love to hear them.
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