How to Employ Women a Commitment to actionable ideas and solutions

The CEO of the Aspen Institute, an international nonprofit committed to actionable ideas and solutions, spoke with the t about the Institute’s new focus on encouraging youth to serve America after graduation”If everybody could come out of college — or [be] career-ready coming out of high school — and serve in the military, or a teacher corps, or a health corps or something like that for one or two years, then they’d be really prepared for the work force,” said Isaacson. This service-oriented approach ties into the point Isaacson — the author of the biography Steve Jobs — made during the RNC jobs panel a week earlier in Tampa, when he spoke about a conversation he had with Jobs about passion. “We talked about the fact that it isn’t just about your damn passion — it’s about doing something larger than yourself,” said Isaacson. “It’s about serving this world, helping others. So if you have a whole generation of people [who’ve been] told, ‘Oh, just follow your passion,’ they’re going to forget that there’s some purpose in life.”

As the burgeoning tech industry continues to do its part to create jobs in a struggling U.S. economy, a major portion of the population has been mostly left out of the tech boom. Despite playing an early role in tech’s expansion in the 1990s, women are currently a noted minority in the industry — an issue that must be addressed immediately.

Although technology jobs are predicted to grow faster than all other jobs in the next decade — up to22 percent, according to National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT) — the field has historically lagged behind when it comes to equal gender representation. Women aren’t studying tech, and those already in the industry are leaving.

Although women held 57 percent of all positions in the U.S. workforce in 2008, they held a meager 25 percent of tech jobs — down from 36 percent in 1991. That same year, women earned only 18 percent of all computer and IST bachelor’s degrees — a fall from 37 percent in 1985.

The “woman problem” in the tech industry is obvious, so how do we fix it? Too many experts addressing this issue assume it’s a pipeline problem, meaning there aren’t enough female tech professionals to begin with to mentor young women, and therefore substantially fewer women are pursuing tech education at a young age. Such experts believe increasing the number of women in computer science and other engineering educational programs is the answer.

Recruiting young women to the hard sciences is important, but there are other ways to address the female drought in tech that don’t require waiting twenty years to see results. After all, the problem is only increasing, and rapidly — a recent article in the New York Times highlighted how women currently in tech are leaving the industry in droves. We need to address this problem by encouraging women to get into tech now, not later. We also need to make sure that women stop leaving tech, immediately.

The mythical tech worker

One thing many women don’t realize is that jobs in the technology industry are diverse and flexible, and that you do not need to study computer software in order to succeed in the tech industry.

Too many people think women aren’t pursuing jobs in tech because they aren’t first pursuing the education “needed” to succeed in the field. The fact is, many positions in the technology industry can be learned on the job or at home, rather than through a formal education program. In fact, some of the industry’s best coders and hackers do not have formal tech education at all.

Employers need to understand this and begin considering job candidates who may not have exactly the training the job requires, but who are sharp and willing to learn and advance their skills. Women need to understand this, and be more confident about pursuing roles that involve technical skills, and about their ability to pick up tech lingo and capabilities.

Re-inventing tech education

Employers need to clarify to women — in their job descriptions and recruiting process — that the tech industry is not all about formal tech education. There are a number of ways workers can build their skills now, without pursuing a four-year degree. Government grants are available to help those who want to gain tech training, but few know they exist. Women can also pursue opportunities to self-educate as a way to start building their credentialsCodecademy andW3Schools are both options women can pursue now to start on the path to a tech career.

Although women can take a number of steps to start to build their skills without formal training, it’s up to tech employers primarily to demystify this industry and be willing to teach new hires skills they need on the job.

Recruiting women

When positions do open up at tech companies, hiring managers are often looking to hire the first qualified candidate who comes their way — and rightfully so. But companies in the STEM fields should make an active and aggressive effort to find and recruit female employees.

A good philosophy for hiring is to focus on locating intelligent people with the ability to effectively execute tasks. Since talent is scarce, it makes sense to increase your pool of candidates to include those you may not have considered before. Many men prefer to work in environments that include women anyway, and some studies show teams with gender diversity are in fact more successful.

Recruiting professionals requires digging deep into your networks to spread the word about open positions. Consider sending job descriptions out over women-focused tech email lists. Look to provide training for women who may need additional skills, and offer flexible hours for those who require childcare services. Fine-tune your interview process to ensure fairness for female candidates. Creating a more woman-friendly recruiting process requires tweaking, but the benefits diversity brings to your workplace will be worth the effort.

Retaining women

As previously noted, women are leaving tech fields in droves — 56 percent of women in tech leave at the “mid-level” point in their careers, which is double the quitting rate for men, according toNCWIT. This also robs the industry of strong female leadership and role models. NCWIT says reducing female attrition for only one quarter would add 220,000 workers to the STEM talent pool.

There are a variety of ways tech companies can work to retain women. Encourage junior female employees to pursue opportunities to develop their skills and become more vested in the industry. Or consider rotating assignments so you can ensure women are tackling work that is substantial and challenging. Empower women to be featured at corporate events as speakers or panelists. Perhaps most importantly, make sure to offer highly flexible work schedules with the option for employees to work remotely. This helps those who may have families tremendously, and will result in dedication and motivation from your employees. It is also important to encourage women in management positions to remain connected to their job after giving birth, even just partially. They should retain certain responsibilities that can be fulfilled remotely.

Remember, retention efforts should be made constantly, so incorporate these practices into the company culture.

The tech industry needs female talent, and cannot afford to miss out on this segment of the population. Why wait to solve this problem? Enough talking about only long-term solutions, particularly when our country is failing in basic science education anyway. Combating the gender gap in tech requires a combination of factors– like the ones addressed in this blog post — to get women started in this industry. The added talent and increased diversity will have positive effects on our companies, economy and society overall.

By Michal Tsur

worked with more than 20 groups who understand the daily struggles of working families on a new report we’re releasing today, “10 Ways to Rebuild the Middle Class for Hard Working Americans: Making Work Pay in the 21st Century.” The report is a road map for addressing the truth that we don’t just have a jobs problem; we have agood jobs problem.

Before we get to what we do about it, we need to confront the fact that even though the proportion of Americans with a college education doubled in the past three decades, the share of working people with a decent job dropped. Six out of ten (58 percent) jobs now emerging from the recession are low-wage. On top of that, the jobs projected to have the most openings between now and 2020 are mostly low-wage and require no more than a high school education. So there is no reason to think things will get better unless we act.

One set of solutions proposed in “10 Ways to Rebuild the Middle Class” is to tackle the lack of support and protections for low-wage workers. A first step is to restore the minimum wage, which buys 30 percent less now than it did 40 years ago. The minimum wage for tipped workers is $2.13 an hour, the same as it was in 1991. One in five workers would get a pay raise if the minimum wage were increased. That includes workers who get paid just above today’s minimum wage, who would also benefit as the legal floor got raised.

Remarkably, four out of ten private sector jobs — including the great majority of low-wage jobs — do not give employees any paid time off if they are sick or need to care for an ill family member. In response, Connecticut and several cities have passed paid sick days ordinances. The federal government and states and localities should update basic labor standards to include this essential benefit to working families.

The report recommends tough enforcement, with meaningful penalties, of laws that unscrupulous employers now routinely flout. Many employers of low-wage workers routinely steal wages by not paying the minimum wage, not paying for overtime, or simply not paying workers at all. Other employers ‘misclassify’ workers as “independent contractors” in order to get out of paying payroll taxes or benefits and hire “permatemps.” Worker safety and health is another area where measly penalties, weak enforcement, and widespread retaliation against workers who dare to speak up allow employers to keep low-wage workers in hazardous work conditions every day.

It will take systemic solutions to address the broader problem of stagnant wages. A crucial step is to uphold the freedom of workers to organize a union by modernizing the National Labor Relations Act and stopping employers from harassing organizing efforts with virtual impunity. Nothing in our nation’s history has done more to bring workers decent pay, benefits, and dignity at work than organized labor. The factory workers of the mid-20th century didn’t have a college education; they organized unions. The low-wage workers of the 21st century — the housekeepers and janitors and home health aids and retail clerks — will only be able to get decent wages and become part of the middle class when they are able to effectively organize to bargain collectively.

Other proposals in the “10 Ways to Rebuild the Middle Class” report would create new social insurance protections for the 21st century, just as Medicare, Social Security, and Medicaid were key to fighting poverty and building the middle class in the last century. The nation took one major step in 2010 with the passage of the Affordable Care Act, which in 2014 will enable working families to get affordable health coverage even if they don’t get it on the job.

The report proposes two other steps to provide families more security in their work and in their retirement. Though today’s norm is for all the adults in a family to be in the workforce, only one in ten workers (12 percent) has paid family leave through work to care for a new child or a sick family member. A solution is to establish a national family and medical leave insurance program, similar to Social Security and successful programs in California and New Jersey, for workers to draw on when they are out on family leave.

To address the fact that pensions have been replaced by thread-bare 401(k)s over the past 30 years, the report recommends establishing new pooled and professionally managed retirement plans for those who rely solely on Social Security and 401(k)s, which would pay a defined amount — a pension — each month.

In addition to these and other steps, “10 Ways to Rebuild the Middle Class” recognizes that a foundation of improving work is full employment. That is why we need to stop laying off public workers and outsourcing jobs overseas. It’s also why we should create millions of jobs now by investing in infrastructure and a green economy.

Rebuilding the middle class is about more than assuring that every working American can support his or her family with dignity and security. It’s about powering the economy forward in the 21st century. The middle class is the engine of our economy, an engine that can only be rebuilt by making today’s jobs good and tomorrow’s jobs better.

The most important thing you can do to enter any new industry is to think like an economist. Ideally, you want to position yourself in an area of high-demand that is currently experiencing a shortage of developers. Here, employers will be more likely to overlook your liberal arts degree if you have the right skills. This mostly applies to your first job as a developer. Afterwards, employers will care less about your background and more about your professional experience.

focused on iOS, the platform that powers Apple’s mobile devices.  chose iOS mainly because  a hopeless Apple fanboy. However,  like to think that there were also some non-emotional reasons for choosing iOS. For example, as everyone already knows, anything mobile is on fire. The adoption of smartphones than the adoption of personal computers in the ’80s. As for the iOS versus Android debate, the latest figures that most companies are spending their limited resources getting on iOS before Android.

Apple’s mobile platform passes with flying colors on the demand side, but what about the supply side? Is there a shortage of iOS developers? Yes there is. Everyone and their mother wants to be on your mobile device but there aren’t enough mobile engineers to meet this growing demand. There are also significant barriers to entry for iOS developers. On the technical side, iOS uses a programming language called Objective-C that is exclusively used by Apple. Anyone who wants to learn my trade will have to learn a non-transferable computer language. On top of the “language barrier,” there are also significant monetary barriers for iOS developers. There is a $100 yearly developer fee, payable to Apple, if you want to create iOS apps. In addition, you can only develop apps for iOS on a Mac computer, which can easily set you back several thousand dollars. These monetary barriers keep a lot of talented people out of iOS, especially abroad.

2. Acquire the skills you need

All this talk about supply and demand does not mean you can sit back and relax once you choose a technology relevant to today’s market. All the economics is just so that potential employers will be more willing to give you a chance. You still have to work as hard, maybe even harder, than everyone else.

I group the required skills you need to acquire into two categories. First, there are the technical skills that you are hired for, be it Java, PHP, Python, you name it. Second, there are the core principles of computer science that all good technologists need to know. These core principles include topics such as data structures, algorithms, software architecture, computer architecture, and so on.

You are not going to use most of this knowledge on a daily basis, but omitting this foundation would be like trying to become a surgeon without knowing basic biochemistry. Sure, you can still cut people up and do just fine. In the long run, however, you can only achieve excellence by knowing what is possible and impossible in your field, knowing what has been done before and understanding why things are the way they are.

If you think that’s a lot to learn, you are right. In terms of picking up the practical skills, there is a sea of resources at your fingertips. So many, in fact, that you may feel overwhelmed. There are free tutorials and video classes for most popular languages under the sun. For example, I used a combination of Stanford’s iOS programming course, Lynda.com’s iOS course and the examples on Apple’s website. Also, don’t forget to get help from human beings. The Internet is great, but sometimes the fastest way to learn is from real people.

Learning the core principles is a bit trickier. College is usually not good for practical skills, but it is great for the big ideas and the core foundation. If you are still in school, you can get 80 percent of the required understanding with two or three college-level computer science classes. If you are out of school, you can take advantage of the many free resources at your disposal. MIT andStanford have most of their courses online. If you need the motivation, take advantage of your local college or university. It will cost money, but the investment is worth it.

3. Accumulate demonstrable experience

Even if you pick the right technology and learn everything you need to learn, hiring you still represents a huge risk. If you have no relevant experience, how does the employer know you are as good as you say you are? On one hand, you could be a perfect fit and eventually become a great engineer. On the other hand, you could fail miserably and they would have to find your replacement. Hiring is very costly for companies so you have to mitigate the risk you bring to the equation.

The only way you can prove that you really do possess the skills they need is by accumulating demonstrable experience. The key word here is demonstrable. I could have spent six months poring over every iOS book ever published but at the end of the day I would have had nothing to show for it.

The best way to accumulate demonstrable experience is with a professional portfolio. If you haven’t already, head over to your favorite domain registrar and register yourname.com (e.g. pietrorea.com for me) or the closest variation you can find. This will be where you showcase your work. You can also add an “About” page so you can discuss your background. Also make sure to create a Github account, which lets you publish your code so others can see it publicly.

As you learn your chosen technology, make sure you spend time developing toy applications that you can include in your personal portfolio. If you want to be a web developer, create a couple of nifty websites. If you want to go into iOS like I did, develop a couple of simple apps and submit them to the App store. In my case, I developed an invitations-based iOS app with a classmate and created a Youtube video about it.

At first it may seem as if all the tech jobs are reserved exclusively for computer science majors. The truth is that a degree in a technical field is just a piece of paper. Technology moves so fast that most of what is used in the real world is not taught in classrooms anyway. In the tech world, eagerness to learn trumps formal training. With the right skills and a little bit of luck, you too can be a developer.

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