With the recent CEO appointments of Virginia Rometty and Meg Whitman to the iconic technology companies of IBM and Hewlett Packard, we are witnessing a turning point in history for women in technology. These appointments show that women can progress not only to high levels of management but also to the very top of the tech industry. This news also shows that now more than ever, careers in technology can be a great growth opportunity for women.
(MORE: Meet Virginia “Ginny” Rometty)
These appointments are especially noteworthy when you look at the numbers: women account for just 25% of the computing workforce, according to the National Center for Women and Information Technology. In addition, while the percentage of women among start-up capital seekers is growing, the number of women who received funding is still low. For example, of the U.S.-based companies that received venture capital in 2010, only 6% had a female CEO, 7% had a female founder, and 10% had either a female founder or female CEO at some point, according to Dow Jones VentureSource. These low numbers can be attributed to the fact that the workforce pipeline is limited — women only earned 18% of undergraduate computing degrees, according to the National Center for Women and Information Technology.
Though we do need more women to graduate with technical degrees, I always like to remind women that you don’t need to have science or technology degrees to build a career in tech. In fact, while Rometty does have a tech background, Whitman does not. All tech companies need sales, business development, marketing or finance, to name a few possibilities, and despite the overall bad economy, the tech industry had been one of the few bright spots. Technology related jobs are expected to grow by 22% over the next 10 years. The possibilities are endless — if you’ve got a great idea and a new technology product you can start your own company in just a few months with very little capital. People forget that Google is only 13 years old, and Facebook is less than eight. If you come up with the next best thing in a fast and growing global market, it doesn’t matter what gender or background you are.
Another promising sign: Today, most young women are exposed to technology at a very young age, with mobile phones, tablets, the Web or social media. They are much more proficient with technology than prior generations since they use it for all their school work, communication and entertainment. Try taking away your teenage daughter’s mobile phone, and you’ll know what I’m talking about.
At the end of the day, both men and women who become CEOs have showed tenacity and hard work to succeed in their careers. It takes not just skills but also extreme dedication and commitment. And regardless of gender, CEOs are measured by the same criteria — the growth and success of the business. With stiff competition and fast product cycles, there’s not enough room to be gender-biased. What matters is being able to show product innovation and growth. The success or failure over time can be measured with numbers and products.
Rometty and Whitman will undoubtedly encourage others to follow in their path. Already, more are on their way. At this year’s Google Science Fair, it was heartening to see the next generation of scientists flourishing: it was the girls who swept all three age categories in the competition.