The tech industry is a ‘boys club.’ Here’s why you should work in it anyway.

Twitter’s womanless board of directors, reports of assault and harassment at tech conferences and “brogrammer” culture are just the headline-grabbing symptoms of sexism in the technology industry. A recent segment on PostTV’s On Background delved into how Silicon Valley earned its reputation for being inhospitable to women:

Despite high-profile players like Marissa Mayer and Sheryl Sandberg, Silicon Valley is incredibly male-dominated. How can the tech industry change its "brogrammer" culture? Vivek Wadhwa and Sara Chipps go On Background. (The Washington Post)

But here’s the thing: Women can’t let that discourage them from pursuing a career in technology, a fast-growing field with high earning potential. We asked a several women who work in technology and related fields for their input on why women shouldn’t be put off by the “boys club” ethos.

1. Jobs Jobs Jobs. Only 5.7 percent of employed women in the United States work in computers or mathematics, according to 2012 data from Catalyst, meaning they aren’t in the mix in an area where good-paying, full-time jobs abound. Software publishing , computer systems and design and technical consulting services were all ranked in the top 10 fastest growing industries in the Bureau of Labor and Statistics’ 2010-2020 employment projections.

“We know that women’s median earnings are lower than men’s in nearly all occupations, whether they work in occupations dominated by women, men, or in jobs with an even mix,” said Noreen Farrell, Executive Director of the San Francisco-based Equal Rights Advocates. “But women are also more than twice as likely as men to work in occupations with poverty-line wages.  Male-dominated jobs tend to pay more than female-dominated jobs at similar skill levels, particularly at higher levels of educational attainment.  Jobs in science, technology, engineering and mathematics not only pay better and more equally across the sexes than non-STEM jobs, they also have higher rates of full-time year-round employment.”

Farrell says technology executives are not doing enough to mentor or recruit women in STEM fields, nor are they making diversification a priority in leadership ranks.  That may partially explain why the percentage of women earning undergraduate degrees in computer science has shrunk significantly since its peak in the 1980s.

Qualified women are in high demand according to Sara Chipps, co-founder of GirlDevelopIT. “I get emails every day from people looking for female programmers,” Chipps said. “Like, every day. A lot of companies have products focused on females and they can’t find enough women to staff their programming.”

2.  Expensive advanced degree optional. “There are lots and lots of jobs in the tech industry that aren’t in engineering,” said Sarah Milstein, CEO and co-founder of The Lean Startup Conference. “You do not need the equivalent of a law or medical degree to advance in the industry. There’s sort of a low academic barrier to success.”

In 2011, 57 percent of graduates from four-year colleges carried student loan debt, owing $23,800 on average. A field that doesn’t require further academic training should, in theory, be an attractive option for women or minorities who don’t want to incur more debt. But that’s not reflected in the industry, which lacks racial diversity as well.

3. “Technology is fun and rewarding and literally our future depends on it!” That’s from Aminatou Sow, the co-founder of Tech Lady Mafia, which aims to increase the ranks of women in tech and new media and create a network to broadcast the achievements of women in the field.

“It’s very true and well documented that women are underrepresented in STEM/tech/new media/journalism,” Sow said. “But I was struck by the fact that we don’t celebrate the women who are there or tell their stories to a broader audience.”

Sow mentioned two examples (because we made her pick just two out of many she could have listed):  Kathryn Peters‘s TurboVote announced earlier this month that is partnering with Pew Trusts and Google on their Voter Information Project. And there’s Natalia Oberti Noguera, founder and CEO of the Pipeline Fellowship, which trains women to be angel investors.

4. There are support systems online and IRL.  Milstein disputes that sexism is a bigger problem in tech than it is in any other industry.  “The tech sector reflects our larger culture,” Milstein said. “It’s a pervasive problem but not one that’s specific to tech. But people in that sector tend to be more comfortable posting things online. It makes the problem visible in a way that it’s not in other sectors.”

That quality — the tech savvy and willingness to post openly  — also lends itself to fostering connections and creating communities for support and solutions.

“It’s important to connect with other people who share your experiences,” Milstein said. “Sometimes you need people who can say ‘What you’re going through is real. Lets’ figure out how you make a change.'”

Milstein said Twitter is the best way to connect with support communities, seeking out people in the industry or using the hashtag #changetheratio. There are also numerous groups including Sow’s Tech Lady Mafia, Girls Who Code, digitalundivided and Women2.o worth seeking out.

Milstein’s advice echoed what Chipps said On Background. She advised women in tech to find a mentor and a community like she has done.

Sara Chipps, co-founder of Girl Develop It, tells Nia-Malika Henderson that there is one thing every woman in the tech industry should have to help navigate the boys club culture. (The Washington Post)

Got more reasons women should go into tech? Share them in the comments section.

Natalie Jennings is a Web producer for PostTV.
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