A couple of weeks ago I wrote What Does It Mean to Be a Woman in Technology? Let's Think Bigger, in which I argued that women can make strong contributions in technology-focused areas without being employed by technology firms or educated and trained in technology-related fields. This piece extends those ideas by highlighting the diversity of career options available to women in the Digital Era.
Although well intentioned and certainly important, emphasizing the need to encourage girls and young women to pursue computer science can be off-putting to many of our best, brightest, and most ambitious. The relatively narrow focus, combined with media-fed stereotypes and negative press about the tech industry and tech firms, can result in women rejecting the idea of integrating technology into their studies and career pursuits because they see it as an either/or proposition. You either focus on technology or you focus on something else - and many of them don't think of themselves (or want to be perceived) as "techies" (for a further exploration of this phenomenon, check out this article).
Rather than emphasizing digital technology as an end unto itself, I think we might be better served by framing it as a means to an end. That way, young women would probably feel less pressure to pick an area of study or career that is driven or defined by technology, and might consider combining topics about which they're passionate and knowledgeable with technology.
Here are some of my thoughts on the more expansive messages - and related examples - we can provide to increase the number of "women in technology." What would you add to the mix?
You can be a tech entrepreneur without being a coder
I recently attended American Express's OPEN Forum: CEO BootCamp for Women in Chicago. Virtually all of the speakers were women who had started what can rightfully be considered tech companies - and all of them were driven by non-tech motives. For example:
- Jessica Brond Davidoff founded two companies - The Edge in College Prep, and most recently Admittedly - because she wanted to eliminate the barriers that many high school students face in pursuing higher education. She has a BA in public and international affairs.
- JJ Ramberg was inspired in part to found Goodsearch while she was reporting on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. She and her co-founder brother wanted to find a way to channel some of the revenue generated by search engines toward philanthropic causes. She has a BA in English and an MBA.
- Alexa von Tobel's motivation to found LearnVest.com came from her own sense of being overwhelmed by how to manage her money when she graduated from college. Her goal was to make "financial planning affordable, accessible and even delightful." She has an AB in Psychology and Romance Languages and Literature and attended but did not graduate from business school.
Technology can take your passions to a whole new level
Goals, passions, motivations, and drives are the what - and for many young women they're fairly easy to define. What's harder for many of them is to determine the how. Instead of discouraging their passions (particularly if they're in areas that have less cachet or are less lucrative), we should help them see how leveraging social and digital technology can open up new possibilities, increasing both potential career roles and paths and the likelihood of success.
Examples of some of the non-tech passions that can drive young women and the ways in which digital technology can be integrated into them include:
|Helping the disenfranchised and underprivileged, particularly in the developing world||Using publicly-available data and analytics to better assess the problems and devise more effective solutions|
|Providing counseling services to help people deal with loneliness, isolation, substance abuse and other mental health issues||Online or virtual counseling for people in remote areas who can't easily get to a counselor or counseling center|
|Breaking the cycle of poverty by supporting entrepreneurship and creating economic self-sufficiency||Leveraging mobile technology to educate and provide micro-finance options, as well as sales and delivery channels|
|Improving health conditions throughout the world||A range of telemedicine options for diagnosis, service delivery, and ongoing care|
Every profession - and career - can have a digital dimension
The above examples highlight how virtually all careers can offer technology-focused sub-specialties, most of which require little or no coding expertise. There are also many IT career possibilities that don't involve coding. Here are some more examples (listed in alphabetical order):
- Accounting: in addition to changes in traditional areas like auditing, technology is also creating fresh opportunities in newer areas like business intelligence, behavioral accounting, and accounting analytics.
- Finance: like accounting, finance is being transformed by analytics, as well as algorithmic approaches to data analysis and decision making. Social media is also creating a range of new opportunities (and challenges) for publicly-traded and financial service firms, as well as individual advisors. And then there is the potential impact of digital currencies like Bitcoin... All of these changes require savvy professionals to help navigate the uncharted and tumultuous waters that lay ahead.
- Information Technology: newer areas like data analytics may be getting most of the attention these days, but there's also strong need and demand in project management, industrial design, user experience design, usability testing, and user training.
- Law: new and growing areas of focus include privacy, cybersecurity, net neutrality, intellectual property, and ecommerce.
- Marketing: this field has been almost completely transformed by social and digital technologies. Disciplines now include digital marketing and advertising, ecommerce, search engine optimization (SEO) and marketing (SEM), social media management, mobile marketing, content marketing and marketing analytics. If we extend marketing to include other communications with external stakeholders, we can also include community management and digital customer service as areas of focus. Drilling down deeper into content production itself presents a range of possibilities in design, development, and delivery.
- People Management: because technology adoption and adaptation are fundamentally human endeavors, the human aspects of technology change are becoming increasingly important. Within organizations of all types, there are new and developing areas for leveraging social and digital technology in human resources, organizational development, talent management, training, recruiting and leadership development.
Every major can be a tech major
When we take a more expansive view of what it means to be a "woman in technology" and recognize a broader range of career pursuits, it becomes clear that many academic disciplines can provide a strong foundation for technology-oriented jobs. In addition to the obvious professional options like marketing, finance, education, and journalism, courses of study in subjects like English, psychology, art, communication, media production and sociology can all be parlayed into Digital Era careers by smart and savvy individuals who augment their core knowledge base by adding a technology twist.
Eventually we may ALL be women in technology
As the Digital Era continues to progress, social and digital technologies will become more fully integrated into not just the work we do, but how we do it. For the past five years I've consistently argued that the largest and most extensive applications of social and digital technologies will be inside organizations. These technologies can be used to enhance just about every aspect of organizational functioning, including knowledge management, internal communication, business intelligence, project management, and learning. And as new technologies become more fully integrated into everyone's jobs, regardless of their functional focus or organizational status, there's an increasing need for all workers to be digitally literate and competent. I'll explore this idea further in my next piece.