Of Rosie the Riveter and Women Who Pioneered the Digital Revolution
This blog was inspired by the importance of Women's History Month and the role women played in the evolution of software development and the digital revolution.
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Never mind her vintage vibe. The iconic Rosie the Riveter meme is more relevant today than ever — with two women taking the Nobel Prize in Chemistry and Physics, the U.S. electing its first woman vice-president, The Queen's Gambit smashing Netflix viewing records, and the astonishing evolution of software development which was pioneered by women.
In a world where software connects anything and everything, Rosie reminds us of the contributions women have made to the digital revolution and the urgency of 'leaning in' and flexing against the gender bias that's holding us back.
But gender bias isn’t just a woman issue. It's a problem that affects us all. Studies show, for example, that prioritizing career advancement and pay parity for women would turbocharge global GDP and add a staggering $12 trillion to the global economy by 2025.
Houston, We’ve Got a Problem!
But when we talk about leaders of the digital revolution, men tend to get all the glory. Which belies the fact that that women pioneered early software development which paved the way for space flight and the digital revolution. This includes hidden figures such as Ada Lovelace, the 19th-century British mathematician who wrote the first computer program, and software trailblazers Grace Hopper, Jean E. Sammet, Fran Allen, Arlene Gwendolyn Lee, and Dorothy Vaughn.
These are just some of the women who schooled us on building computer applications before writing software was cool. By the way, Lee and Vaughn were women of color. Not to mention women accounted for half of the technologists who programmed the U.S. military’s first digital computer.
A Glimmer of Hope
But in the 1980s, as demand for personal computers and custom applications began to explode, the share of female computer science majors nosedived from 37% to just 18% today. Perhaps there's a glimmer of hope in the fact that the graduation rate for female computer science majors has rebounded to the point where women now make up more than half of new graduates and junior developers entering the workforce.
Even so, a disproportionate number of women continue to get stuck in junior-level positions at large companies. Some notable digits in that regard:
- At the top 1,000 U.S. companies (by revenue) just 19% of CIOs are women.
- In the Fortune 500, only 17% of CIOs are female.
- In the Fortune 100, women make up only 22% of CIOs.
So says Deloitte.
Time to Change the Conversation
Lisa Heneghan serves as Global Lead for KPMG’s Technology Consulting Practice. Heneghan leads a huge network of more than 10,000 practitioners to help clients turn digital transformation strategies into business outcomes. As a sponsor of KPMG’s 'IT’s her Future' program, Heneghan evangelizes the business case for attracting more women into technology jobs and proactively advancing the careers of women already working in the industry.
“So, I think this is a fantastic time for organizational diversity to massively improve,” Heneghan says. “To succeed in a world of pervasive digital disruption, companies must be customer-obsessed. And you can’t do that without greater diversity.”
Debunking the 'Women Fear Technology' Myth
“One of the things I’m keen to explore is how the skills required in the technology world today are different than 5 or 10 years ago — and I think these skills actually match up very well with the inherent skills that women have.”
Part of the challenge, says Heneghan, is debunking the myth that women don’t want to be in technology. She says that the inherent skills that women bring to the table are really needed in the digital economy—skills like collaboration, openness to learning, and building relationships.
That’s because in the digital economy, these high-level social skills are critical success factors. But don’t get it twisted. This doesn’t mean that we don’t also need more women with more traditional STEM skills as well, says Heneghan. There’s room for both.
“Most major organizations have some form of diversity initiative,” says Heneghan. “But for many, it’s not something that lives and breathes and has momentum. At KPMG, we’re really trying to turn the business case for diversity into business outcomes, and we are making positive progress on this.”
Diversity of Thinking Matters
“(Gender) diversity isn’t just a ‘nice to have’ or about checking a box on a diversity checklist,” says Heneghan. “The truth is, you can’t be a customer-focused business if you can’t build technology that works for everyone. And you can’t do that if you don’t also leverage diversity of thinking in your organization.”
Here’s another way to look at it. In the U.S. alone, women control 85% of purchasing decisions and nearly $20 trillion in assets (roughly 60% of personal wealth). Globally, women control $36 trillion in total wealth. So, why aren’t more tech companies prioritizing hiring a workforce that looks more like the consumers who buy and use their products?
“If you look at the most successful businesses,” says Heneghan, “they recognize the only way to be successful is to leverage diversity of thinking. And you need women as part of your team to do that.”
Published at DZone with permission of Roland Alston, DZone MVB. See the original article here.
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