The Solution to Keeping Women Working in Tech

The Winter 2016 Salary Survey report from the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) indicated “STEM graduates are expected to receive the highest starting salaries,” all above $60K. They also have better odds of getting a job, according to the employers surveyed, who said they would be hiring people with STEM degrees that year.

That awareness is behind a number of programs designed to encourage girls to study those areas and go on to pursue college degrees that would qualify them to work in the field. So girls are getting encouragement to get into the field. The problem is that they don’t stay in it.

While women make up 41 percent of junior-level scientists, engineers and technologists, more than half of them drop out at some point in their thirties, according to a Harvard Business Review special report.

As a result, women remain underrepresented. According to this year’s figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, women hold only 24.7 percent of computer and mathematical occupations and just 15.1 percent of architecture and engineering jobs.

The question is: What can be done to not only get women on the tech track but prevent them from getting derailed along the way?

Monica Eaton-Cardone believes the answer is mentorship. She said that it is essential to providing the support needed for retention. Accordingly, women who have advanced in the tech industry should be there for the new crop of women who embark on their careers to help them stay the course.

“Women can achieve just as much as their male peers in tech capacities,” she insists. The difference she finds between the sexes is “that men tend to take on mentor-protégé relationships much more readily than women.”

It is for that reason that women have to consciously set up these mentor relationships. They “need to make a point of seeking out opportunities to share experience and knowledge with young people in the industry; otherwise, nothing will change,” Eaton-Cardone says.

What Can a Mentor Do?

Eaton-Cardone identifies greater value in mentorship than just learning about skills: “A mentor willing to show one the ropes, help build connections and establish a career path.” All that, she insists, “is more valuable than all the training in the world.”

Of course, a mentor can also instruct the protégé about what skills are essential to particular projects and direct her to the type of specific training that will help her advance in her career. Beyond that, though, she can also demonstrate what particular accomplishments get positively noticed so that she gains the necessary “visibility” to rise up the career ladder.

The way forward for women in tech depends not just on getting encouragement to pursue the required course of study in junior high school through college but getting the necessary support on the job, as well. With the right mentor, that can happen.