Women in tech can address employee shortages | #education | #technology | #training

Cedar Rapids Jefferson High School students Patrick Turu and Sarah Jahnke work on assignments during class at DeltaV’s Computer Ops program in July 2021. Seven high school students completed the program, which made it possible for high school students to work alongside adult learners in the training program. (Photo by NewBoCo)

We have all seen the signs in restaurant windows throughout our communities. “Help Wanted,” they plead from behind the glass. The need for staff is evident while we sit at a table waiting for one server to do the job of three, but in the behind-the-scenes tech industry the shortages are less visible.

Technology firms across the country are battling for the limited candidates available. With the increased cost of everything from groceries to housing, a higher rate of pay is an enticing incentive for prospective employees. The attrition rates of tech companies bear the marks of the great resignation; a survey of over 1,200 tech professionals revealed that 72 percent of tech workers are thinking of quitting their job or exploring other job opportunities in the next 12 months. To address the staffing shortage, the industry must address the glaring inequity in the room: the absence of women in tech professions.

In fact, women make up only about 25 percent of the tech industry workforce. Employer bias, gender stereotypes, and educational gaps are all contributing factors to inequity in the field.

To learn more about women in tech, I contacted local woman in tech Samantha Dahlby. Samantha spent several years as the only woman software engineer at a previous employer.

“It was trial by fire. I love the technical side, but I didn’t have a mentor base to help me navigate the difficult experiences on my own.” She described challenges women face in male-dominated organizations seeking equal pay and acknowledgment for their contributions.

“Is your own experience with an unfulfilled need for mentorship what led you to serve in that role for so many other women?”

“Yes! I’m in a tech group with moms from all over the world. It’s amazing how women support each other and use the network to extract women from toxic places and find a soft place to land. I also now have the ability to give back to the industry. I sit on statewide committees, and when they talk about the shortages I’m asking them — have you thought about stay-at-home moms or offering day care stipends? One of the challenges with attracting talent here is financial, but you don’t necessarily have to compete with salaries offered by coastal companies if you are willing to think more creatively about how you provide benefits to your employees.”

Samantha has brought her engineering abilities and her passion for mentorship to the New Bohemian Innovation Collaborative (NewBoCo) where she serves as Director of K-12 Education.

“In general we want to promote computer science and tech opportunities to all students. We know that if it is our goal for these educational opportunities to be equitably distributed, we need to focus on girls and minoritized populations. With programs like Coder Dojo, we are exposing students to STEM in a fun, student led, engaging way.”

The tech programs at NewBoCo partner with other kid-centered local organizations to increase their reach.

“Big Brothers and Big Sisters will come in with their littles. We have also worked with Boys and Girls Club, Kids on Course will be coming in this summer, and we have other collaborative efforts under development.”

“What do you see on the horizon that will impact the way you approach this work?”

“We constantly have to evolve — it’s critical to be agile so that we are responding to needs and gaps that exist. At this point, every company is a tech company. We all need software, a website, a database — and all of these require a workforce to maintain and update them. We talk about artificial intelligence — think about the automation of industry, and the need to upskill employees who previously held repetitive jobs. There is so much opportunity, also, to make connections with different industries. Building a foundational understanding of computer science in order to better create solutions from agriculture to health care.”

Samantha’s work is also inspired and informed by her experiences as a mother.

“I have two young girls. I’m very mindful of stereotyping and what society pushes them to. Our older daughter has been engaged in tech programs, and we have already started to hear from her that she’s the only girl there. We have been much more intentional about her inviting her friends and building her social group — so there are other girls in the room.”

“What does your organization need most right now?”

“We always need volunteers. You don’t have to have a tech background, we can help with that. We also need donations to keep doing outreach, supporting students that need access, and training teachers.”

To learn more about New Bohemian Innovation Collaborative, visit Newbo.co

Sofia DeMartino is a Gazette editorial fellow. Comments: sofia.demartino@thegazette.com

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