Right to left: Stephanie Ruhle, anchor, Bloomberg Television; Laura Merling, vice president, Ecosystem Development and Platform Solutions, AT&T Business Solutions; Ayah Bdeir, founder and CEO, littleBits (electronic blocks, light, sounds, motors, that can be snapped together to create electronic prototypes); Meredith Perry, founder and CEO, uBeam (Wi-Fi device charging); Eesha Khare, developer, Quick Charging
According to research from the Harvard Business School, 56 percent of women in the tech industry leave by mid-career, double the rate than men (see a comparison chart below with women in India). Many women who enter the tech field encounter rampant misogyny, blatant sexism and sneering skepticism. And many more never see themselves as tech innovators in the first place, or they are held back by parents and peers in entering the sciences.
The women on the panel “Women Design the Future,” at the 2014 Women in the World Summit*, however, prove them all wrong. Their recipe of success: persistence. Successful women in tech don’t focus on the fact that there are so few women at their side; they focus on what they are interested in — taking an active part in shaping new technologies and exploring new horizons, from software engineering to computer science and hardware inventions. They don’t let the lack of role models hold them back because they don’t need role models to have the drive to innovate and create. As the moderator observed, “technology used to be about men. But that has changed.” The lack of women in tech doesn’t face those who succeed: they are gender-neutral while pursuing their passions.
New innovations make technology and engineering highly creative, which was a revelation to many women on the panel. They wanted to reinvent technology to represent their interests in creating useful software and hardware that everyone wants and needs in their daily life. It is not about the cute next app but about technology that has an impact. Women need to bring to the table a “just do it” and “why not” mentality. If an experiment goes wrong, it is not a failure but just another courageous step toward that refined working prototype. As long as you have an idea, you can be your own leader.
All the women on the panel created highly useful prototypes, from Wi-Fi device chargers, Lego-based robotic building blocks that make technology modular to Nano particles — super capacitors — that hold charges and harness the power of solar and wind energy and can be used in Third World countries that are off the grid.
Electronic engineering classes slowly reflect that can-do attitude, with more and more female students attending. The alpha-male culture in tech, however, is still a reality, and according to a recent New York Times article “Technology’s Man Problem”, is painful and disrupting to many women in the tech industry. “In the beginning, the word ‘computers’ meant ‘women,’ ” Ruth Oldenziel, a professor at Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands who studies history, gender and technology was quoted in the article. “Six women programmed one of the most famous computers in history — the 30-ton Eniac — for the United States Army during World War II.”
There is still so much to be done in technology, so much up and coming. But there is also an immediate need to change the gender gap in tech. One of the panelists summed it up: “Women want to set the world on fire. They are in the process of lighting the match and helping others light the match to do just that. Have an idea in mind and go after it.” Penetrate the boys’ tech clubs and shatter attitudes.
* Women in the World is a movement dedicated to advancing women and girls through stories and solutions. The Women in the World summit was launched by Tina Brown in March 2010. The summit brings together extraordinary women leaders and advocates from around the world.