Tackling the problem of getting women into STEM careers
This feature first appeared in the Summer 2015 issue of Certification Magazine. Click here to get your own print or digital copy.
Tech skills will be required in 80 percent of all jobs in the next decade, yet women in technology have been declining since 1991. At the current rate of decline, fewer than 1 percent of the global tech workforce will be female by 2043.
STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) jobs are twice as likely to be held by men, even in a randomized, double-blind study. Monica Eaton-Cardone, founder and CIO of Global Risk Technologies, says that in order for today’s women to have a chance tomorrow, gender must become a non-factor.
“The opportunity to add a valuable contribution to society through technology is a benefit that should be promoted more — especially to women,” says Eaton-Cardone. She believes that women are interested in STEM opportunities, but don’t get many chances to develop or pursue that interest. Eaton-Cardone points to the 66 percent of fourth-grade girls who are interested in math and science — yet only 18 percent of college engineering majors are female. Currently, only 1 in 4 STEM jobs is held by a woman. Eaton-Cardone says that in order to change this, women need to be encouraged and women need to be educated on the growing potential of STEM careers.
Eaton-Cardone is a unique case for women in STEM, excelling in a field of men despite having no formal IT background. Her creative solutions for payment processing in Chargebacks911, eConsumerServices, and Global Risk Technologies have enabled merchants, consumers and banks to find solutions for their online businesses. Even taking the rare success stories into account, however, there are many questions when it comes to women in STEM:
● Why do young girls lose their enthusiasm for math and science?
● How can society offer encouragement to women in STEM?
● Why are STEM industries averse to women?
● What programs/opportunities exist to encourage girls in STEM?
● How can companies learn about potential bias in hiring practices? What can they do to change this?
● What are your recommendations to women who would like to get into technology or IT?
Monica Eaton-Cardone made a career out of discovering where there is a problem and then solving it herself. She then develops solutions for others who are experiencing the same problem. Eaton-Cardone has a 20-year background in developing retention campaigns, which entails developing technologies around monitoring key performance indicators to help track advertising performance, customer acquisition trends, and other factors that help to secure customers.
Her career expanded to the online arena, which she claims is a totally different ballgame because it is constantly evolving. As with brick-and-mortar businesses, principles such as “The customer is always right” are important. But the online arena uses a spaceless customer where there is less accountability for both consumer and merchant, and a reduced barrier to entry for merchants on a global scale. That introduces some unique problems in business — problems that are hard to quantify because online business is a moving target.
Take chargeback and credit card processing, for instance: “Technology solutions follow the technology criminals,” Eaton-Cardone says. “It is the ‘genius criminals’ who are actually responsible for creating a revolution in this industry because we’re all trying to stay ahead of them — and keep up with the loopholes that they expose — to make our systems even more secure. However, the minute you think that you have the best, most secure system, you’re dead in the water because just a few months go by and someone else has figured out some other way to expose a weakness in your online presence.
“You have to continually re-invent and recognize that the most relevant data to analyze when it comes to the economy today is the present, not necessarily historical. I developed a software program strictly for my own use because I found there was such confusion in handling chargebacks and being able to analyze risk in the online environment. Lo and behold, there were a number of other online merchants who needed that solution as well, which gave birth to Global Risk Technologies to serve these online merchants.”
Eaton-Cardone’s first project was developing a VOIP (Voice Over IP) technology that connected call centers in four countries so that she could analyze the results. Her education lies in architecture, so she was not exactly interested in IT. What she was interested in, though, was building things and solving problems. She enjoys math, and she likes organizing ways to solve a problem. Technology was something she fell into as a result of solving a problem with well-defined requirements.
Can any of us get away from technology? Eaton-Cardone says that every woman on the planet has a natural interest in technology and would expose that talent if she tried it. She believes that women, in general, have an aptitude for design and creativity, tapping into their talents in structure and organization. Most mothers are proficient multi-taskers, she says. This is what technology is! Women just use a different set of tools.
Eaton-Cardone has a daughter who is 8. Her daughter is as good with Legos as any boy of the same age, and Eaton-Cardone is certain that her daughter would enjoy a robotics class. At the same time, she’s certain that her daughter would not consider taking such a class without ample encouragement from her mother. By their teenage years, most girls have not been afforded much opportunity to be exposed to what technology is.
Girls would enjoy developing a computer program on their iPhones because it’s creative. They would be designing something — it’s not just math; they’d be applying their talents. “Boys are probably more likely to learn math at a faster pace because they take courses like wood shop, and guess what wood shop is?” Eaton-Cardone says. “A bunch of angles that allow them to apply math to their creativity with the wood; they’re learning a skill (wood shop) in tandem with math.”
How do we provide the same opportunities to girls? The top-down approach — putting pressure on corporations to hire more women — is not only unworkable but is actually damaging. What ends up happening is that people are interviewed to become computer programmers or coders, and there aren’t any women to interview. Eaton-Cardone says she may have one woman out of 100 applicants, and she must fight the impulse to hire that one woman, because to do so would make that woman a charity case.
Suppose, for example, that the lone female applicant is not as qualified as the male applicants. So now there is a woman who is setting an example for every other woman, and she’s not very good. To hire her simply to make a statement would not be fair to her, to women in general, to the corporation, or to the 99 men who applied. Trying to incentivize female applicants with money or scholarships doesn’t work because men and women go to college to pursue their passions. Oftentimes money is not enough to get them to change their passions. One needs to start at a younger age.
Eaton-Cardone says she overheard a man at a seminar, who said, “We’re giving everyone the same opportunity.” But Eaton-Cardone claims it’s not an opportunity if we’re telling a 13-year-old to choose between a sewing class and learning robotics. It would be an opportunity to actually require students to take a robotics class to allow that exposure to technology to happen.
“If the only piano players we had on the planet were very young children who expressed a desire to learn piano, we’d have no pianists,” Eaton-Cardone says. “You expose them to something with parental stewardship, and the children learn whether or not they have a talent for the skill and become engaged. Boys are drawn to STEM because they are more naturally interested in computer games, and girls are drawn to creativity and design work. Women aren’t given an opportunity early in their lives to put their creativity and design talents together with technology.”
Technology is a genderless field. One cannot expect a girl at the age of 13 to decide everything in which she’s going to be interested. In Asia, girls are required to take trigonometry, which allows them to consider a career in STEM. Many IT pros are given the flexibility to work from home or telecommute. If one has the talent, one has terrific flexibility and opportunity if a STEM field is chosen. Women do not recognize the freedom that is afforded by a STEM field. One is hired because of one’s talent and interest in STEM, just as men are.
It would be interesting to see how many girls would pursue a STEM career if they took wood shop. Expose them to areas outside a traditional girl’s comfort zone, and more girls will go into STEM. The best learning comes when there is an application method for the theory being taught. Girls can’t be expected to naturally excel in math when they are only given theory without any application for it. Boys are naturally choosing things that apply the math theory.
Eaton-Cardone: “We like to say that a person either has the STEM gene or he/she doesn’t. At Global Risk Technologies, we hire a woman as an executive assistant, and we will reveal her hidden abilities in numbers. We hear women saying, ‘I like to help people,’ and women don’t realize that majoring in STEM will allow them to help many more people than studying non-STEM subjects. But they’ve never seen how they can apply their natural abilities. You can learn how to do anything online. Opportunities are boundless. It’s back to having confidence in trying new things; thinking outside the box. It is damaging to women to tell them they are the underdog. The men out there are producing. Don’t be afraid to start at the very bottom, and if you perform, the company will recognize this. If you feel sorry for yourself, you will become a liability to that company.”
Some final advice to women in technology from Monica Eaton-Cardone: Find a subject about which you can be passionate. Find a mentor in that subject area and become excellent at it. This takes work and many hours. Turn your interest into a passion. Invest in yourself. Pick it and stick with it.
Actor Marc Anthony told reporter Meredith Vieira what his father said to him many years ago. “My dad told me early on, he said, ‘Son, we’re both ugly.’ I swear, he says it to this day. And he goes, ‘You work on your personality. It builds character.’ ” We would have a better planet if both men and women put 100 percent of their efforts into their passion for something. Why can’t that something be STEM?