A few years before she graduated from college in 2013, Amanda Langley shifted her focus from filmmaking to computer engineering.
Langley was good at math and liked the challenge of logic and abstract thinking in her computer science class. She was just one of a handful of women in her class of more than 100 students at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. But the lack of gender diversity didn’t stop her from excelling in her courses and landing a job at Centare in Milwaukee six months before graduation. She is now a programmer for the software development company.
Langley now reaches out to high school kids at career fairs, explaining the opportunities and challenges for women in technology.
“Adding women to the room changes the dynamics on a team,” Langley says. “I tell these high school girls that they should believe in themselves and not be afraid to tell people what they’re thinking.”
Langley is member of Girls in Tech Milwaukee and volunteers about once a month to talk with young people about her career path.
Technology jobs, historically a man’s field, are still overwhelmingly male-dominated. Women hold only about one-quarter of all information technology jobs and nearly half the women in science, engineering and technology jobs quit the field early, according to a report by the National Center for Women and Information Technology.
Recruiting top talent is a challenge, especially when technology companies are keyed-in to the need for diversity. But Ann Bly, senior recruiter at Base2 Solutions in Bellevue, Wash., says she’s seeing more female applicants now than she was a few years ago.
“We are working on building relationships with some of our local colleges and universities,” Bly says. “I also work with some local groups that encourage second careers in programming. “
On average, Bly receives 10 percent to 20 percent female candidates for her posted positions, a figure that’s in-line with the national averages.
Despite the outreach, only about 20 percent of software developers are women, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The good news for women in software engineering is there are plenty of jobs. Some 1.2 million computing jobs will be available in 2022, yet U.S. universities are producing only 39 percent of the graduates needed to fill them.
“I believe that women graduating with degrees in computer science or engineering degrees would have many choices for positions with large and small companies in the cities of their choice,” Bly says.
Bias Still a Concern for Women
But some women in the field warn the tech world can be a battleground, and some say they often find sexism in the male-dominated industry.
A recent notable case is that of engineer Julie Ann Horvath, who claimed she was the victim of gender discrimination at the startup GitHub. In an email to TechCrunch, Horvath wrote: “I had a really hard time getting used to the culture, the aggressive communication on pull requests and how little the men I worked with respected and valued my opinion.” (GitHub said on April 21 it had been exonerated by an independent investigation.)
Langley, the Milwaukee programmer, admits when she was working on projects at school, “the boys would take over, and it was difficult to have her voice heard.”
Langley and other women are fighting back with their own brand of girl power. Langley is part of a LinkedIn group, Women In Software Engineering, that’s become a platform for women to share information about job openings and female-friendly companies. It has more than 3,000 members. By banding together, the women in the group say they also hope to erase the pay gap in their field. Census Bureau figures show annual earnings for women were 77 percent of what men earned in 2012.
This month, President Barack Obama signed directives aimed at bridging that gap. His executive measure makes it easier for workers of federal contractors to get information about workplace compensation, and he directed the Labor Department to write rules requiring federal contractors to provide compensation data by race and gender.
Langley, for one, remains positive. “The future holds some cool things for computer science, and this is the time for women to be part of the network,” she says.