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How the digital economy is shifting the workforce playing field for women

08 Mar 18

Article by Wendy Torell, Schneider Electric Data Center Blog 

I’m used to being out-numbered. 

I grew up in a household with 3 brothers… I attended engineering classes in college with less than a handful of women… I have participated in technical workshops where I was the sole female in attendance… and I have attended many a data center conference with a single-digit number of females in the room. 

It’s no secret that there is a big gender gap in tech / engineering fields, and especially in the data center industry.

March 8th is International Women’s Day – a day to celebrate the achievements of women around the globe… and a day we commit to furthering the progress made with gender parity. 

It seemed like an appropriate time to write about the importance of diversity in our industry and how the digital economy may help shift the playing field.

Some interesting statistics I came across:

  • Just 12.9% of all US engineers are presently women, and a mere 8 percent in the UK.
  • The number of female engineers and computer scientists graduating each year is increasing, but as a percent of those degrees awarded, it has remained relatively constant at 20% for the past decade, so we’re not seeing an increase in their representation in the workplace
  • In 1995, 37% of computer scientists were women. Today, it’s only 24%

I’m focused on women in these examples given the day that is being celebrated, but this conversation applies to any segment of the population – race, sex, nationality, ethnic background, etc. – that is not well represented.

The good news is there have been numerous research studies demonstrating the value of a more balanced workforce and how it leads to better products and better results.

Different experiences, viewpoints, knowledge, and perspective are key ingredients for creativity, conflict, and critical analysis – all crucial to innovation in science and technology fields. 

This understanding has led to extensive efforts to balance the work force – efforts by governments around the world, efforts by our learning institutions, and efforts by corporations.

I have seen the initiatives first hand in my children’s schools, and in my company. 

One recent school example: Just last week I got an email detailing an opportunity for girls in 6th-9th grade to attend the local university (URI) SWE’s collegiate chapter meetings to learn about engineering, to have the chance to discuss STEM careers with URI women in engineering, and to participate in STEM activities with them.

The Digital Economy

The digital economy is changing the ways we connect with each other, with information, and with the world (think IoT!).

Technologies like machine learning, big data analytics, automation, artificial intelligence, 3D printing, and robotics are allowing us to solve more and more complex problems. 

Mobile & cloud technology is at the center of it.  More and more, we’re seeing the spread of internet-based service models.

So the question is, what impact do these technologies have on the types of jobs and skills needed and the way we work. 

Certainly, there will be a continued growth in STEM field jobs, especially in fields like data science and cyber security. I read an interesting article about the future of work  that described how big data, real-time information, automation, etc. can have a big impact on the way we work; think about commutes being shorter with real-time traffic info, or home-work flexibility increasing because of enabling technologies and constant connection. 

A common response to the low numbers of women in tech fields is the lack of workplace flexibility; so if these barriers are taken away, perhaps we’ll see an increase in women in these roles.

It will be exciting to see what the future holds; many of our children will hold roles that don’t yet exist today.  With the importance of diversity well understood, and initiatives in place to achieve it, I think we’re headed in the right direction.

For those young girls out there that love science, math, and technology, I encourage you to learn more about the STEM fields, be confident in what you’re capable of, and keep an open mind about who you want to become!

Don’t let stereotypes steer your future.

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