Syncsort’s Tendu Yogurtcu on Getting More Women in STEM Jobs
The National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine all say that STEM is crucial to improving the US economy, and that reducing disparities in STEM employment by sex and race are critical to US leadership in technology advancement. Historically, women are underrepresented in STEM employment, according to a 2013 US Census Bureau report titled “Disparities in STEM Employment by Sex, Race, and Hispanic Origin.”
Though there are more women in STEM careers than there were in the 1970s, women’s representation in computer careers has actually declined since the 1990s, according to the Census Bureau. While 31% of men are employed in STEM careers, only 15% of women are.
ScribbleLive recently hosted a live chat titled “Women in Technology: Addressing the Shortage of Women in STEM Jobs” about the shortage of women in STEM careers, and one of the key participants was Tendu Yogurtcu, VP of Engineering at Syncsort. The focus of the chat was why there are not more women in and entering into STEM, the obstacles they face, and what can be done to improve representation of women in STEM careers. Here are some highlights from the chat.
Challenges of Getting More Women into STEM
Challenges of getting more women into STEM careers were roughly divided into three areas: lack of educational resources, misperceptions of what tech is and does, and general push-back that women still unfortunately receive in education and the workplace.
In education, although girls frequently outperform boys in science and math during elementary, middle, and high school, fewer of them pursue STEM-related majors in higher education. A lack of strong computer science teachers as role models in schools, reluctance of girls to take computer science classes, and the low number of girls sitting for the AP computer science exam were all discussed.
There is still misperception about tech careers, often due to lack of understanding. Yogurtcu emphasized that some girls don’t realize the many creative aspects of STEM, and may lack role models in the family and in schools. Too few students grow up understanding how technology relates to their interests, and how it supports creative endeavors.
As for push-back, some participants cited a fear of failure, lack of self-confidence, and persistent attitudes by some that women only get plum internships and opportunities because the sponsor specifically wanted women.
Solutions to Getting More Women in STEM
The solutions to getting more women into STEM careers starts early, and it starts close to home, according to Yogurtcu. “I was very lucky to have a family with very strong female figures, and a mathematician dad who was very encouraging,” she said. “My high school math teacher was also a major influence. He noticed my interest in math and created opportunities for me.”
That pop culture also has a role to play was also discussed, with one participant lauding the new “Cosmos” television series, and its portrayal of women’s roles in many important science and technology advancements. An increase in the number of female characters in tech-oriented TV series and games was also discussed.
One of the keys to promoting STEM careers for women is, as Yogurtcu put it, is “relating technology to what girls like and use on a daily basis,” because technology is an integral part of any career anyone might want to pursue. In other words, “Pursue a career that you are passionate about and study technology to support that,” said Yogurtcu.
The importance of mentoring from a young age was a potent topic, from “Take Your Kid to Work Day” programs to community and school programs that bring kids into tech enterprises and let them actually participate in hands-on processes to see what tech careers can really be like.
Women in STEM Benefit Business
Yogurtcu also brought up how diversity in the workplace (and not just gender diversity) drives innovation, citing her experience at Syncsort: “About 50% of R&D leadership is women and female engineers constitute over 30% of the engineering workforce that is ethnically diverse … Diversity fuels the innovation here.”
In May, Google published its workforce diversity data, revealing that its workforce consists largely of white men. “We’ve always been reluctant to publish numbers about the diversity of our workforce at Google. We now realize we were wrong, and that it’s time to be candid about the issues,” said Laszlo Bock, Google’s senior VP of people operations.
Yogurtcu says Google’s transparency on the issue is positive, because “What Google did with publishing their numbers was a good first step – acknowledging!” Google’s workforce is 70% male and 30% female, which is considerably more skewed than the national average of a 53% male / 47% female ratio.
Studies have shown that men and women approach the solution of complex problems differently, but it’s because of the differences between women and men that STEM professions benefit from greater participation by women. STEM skills are critical for all boys and girls, whatever their career aspirations, and these skills should be emphasized early and often, in schools and homes as well as in the workplace.