By Nick Erickson
Despite women accounting for virtually half of all bachelor’s degree recipients among STEM majors, there are startling gender inequity statistics in the technology sector that show that capability isn’t lining up with opportunity.
According to George Washington University School of Business Vice Dean for Strategy Liesl Riddle, women make up only about 25% of the technology field’s workforce, including just 15% CEO representation.
To celebrate International Women’s Day, the GW School of Business (GWSB) invited and celebrated three women who have broken through barriers to become leaders in the male dominated industry. Teneika Askew, Suuchi Ramesh and Jeeva Senthilnathan were all guests on GWSB’s latest George Talks Business episode Tuesday, sharing their stories of both triumphs and tribulations with Riddle, who moderated the virtual discussion. Askew, Ramesh and Senthilnathan were recently honored with Globant Women That Build awards, of which GWSB is a platinum sponsor.
The awards recognize women who advance careers in technology, manage innovation and collaboration and promote diversity and inclusion.
Askew, who is the director of data science and analytics enablement for the U.S. Navy and recipient of the digital leader award, believes the isolation felt being in an underrepresented position is one of the biggest reasons for the disconnect between training and career accomplishments.
“When you enter the technology field, you very much don’t see people who look like you or think like you,” Askew said. “So, when you look up to role models or people that you can aspire to be, they don't resemble who you are or who your family is, you get discouraged. What happens then is a lot of people end up transitioning out of the field.”
It might be especially noteworthy then that Askew, who has instead forged ahead in the tech world, was one of the people to address the GW students who will soon be embarking in their own career journeys. The university is preparing a nationally recognized amount of women in STEM who also will be looking to buck gender trends. The Financial Times recently named GWSB No. 1 for percentage of women enrolled in a full-time M.B.A. program in the United States. In fact, GWSB was one of two U.S. institutions with a women majority in their class.
“I think that is such a reason, a great reason, why the Globant sponsorship makes so much sense for so many reasons for our institution,” Riddle said.
All three panelists shared their origin stories of how they advanced in a business where they are in the statistical minority. While they didn’t hide the challenges that sometimes came with it, they encouraged students to take risks, work hard enough to become the most desirable worker they can be and build relationships with people both in and outside the field.
Doing so can open doors professionally and keep them open for others.
Ramesh is now the founder and CEO of a supply chain software platform called Succhi, Inc. She described it as a new age business management system that allows companies to democratize access to both internal and external users. As an immigrant woman who wears that part of her very proudly, Ramesh counts her blessings as being someone who had motivating people of all backgrounds around her to influence her worldview and shape her path in the field.
“It's always inspiring to hear about other stories,” said Ramesh, the tech entrepreneur award winner. “I think for me obviously with having folks around you and watching inspirational stories of other women that build is a big part of my background that influenced who I became.”
Senthilnathan, the rising star award recipient, is in the early stages of building her tech career. Coming from an underserved and underfunded high school, she took matters into her own hands by founding Privando, a smartwatch alert system where the user can notify friends and family if they are in an unsafe population. Senthilnathan, a current student at the Colorado School of Mines, created the tool to help vulnerable populations, especially women facing sexual harassment and assault.
She believes that while the end goal is a gender-neutral area for women and minorities in STEM, it hasn’t been achieved yet, noting that she is often both the only woman and person of color in a machine shop. To get there, she said, there needs to be more opportunity for non-white males to lead.
“By having women, other minority communities lead, I think that we can really kind of bridge that gap together,” said Senthilnathan, who is doing just that with women such as Askew and Ramesh.
Not only would more women and diversity in the technology field offer greater representation, but Askew believes having a variety of voices would also enhance the overall product as more viewpoints and ideas would lead to greater innovation. After all, technology is a field that, despite its rapid growth, is begging to have some statistics altered.
“Otherwise, we won’t more forward as a society or in technology in general,” Askew said.
George Talks Business is hosted by the GW School of Business, interviewing C-Suite executives, government leaders, entrepreneurs and alumni. The program runs each semester and is available on YouTube.