Statistics show that women make up less than one-fourth of the workforce in the information technology field. That’s despite more than 50 percent of the overall workforce in the U.S. being women.
“The higher up you go on the corporate ladder, the fewer women as well. Some estimates claim around nine percent of chief information officers in the nation are women,” said Dr. Tanya Goette, chair of the Department of Information Systems and Computer Science.
At Georgia College, the same gender gap rings true. Of the 51 seniors majoring in management information systems, only nine are female. Majoring in computer science are 24 graduating seniors with only three females.
Those numbers don’t faze senior Chancelynn Ridley and junior Kali Kimball. These young women are making their mark in the technology field thanks in part to the education and opportunities they’ve found at Georgia College.
“I came to Georgia College as a math major. I took calculus I and hated it. I was drawn to computer science (CS) because I like the idea of problems solving, so I changed my major,” said Kimball.
For Ridley, her track to management information systems (MIS) came from the motivation of a reliable source—her mom.
“I came in as a management major, but after I did an internship working with data and Excel files that were not uniform or organized effectively, I thought to myself there has to be a better way to do this. Then I talked with my mom, who’s familiar with IT tools, and she pushed me to go into management information systems to learn to solve problems like this,” said Ridley.
Although the minority elsewhere, about half of the faculty in the Department of Information Systems and Computer Science are females, giving young women a way to visualize themselves in the workplace.
“The women faculty members are great. I really love their teaching style and the personal relationships we can build with them. It really shows us how women can work and lead in the field,” said Kimball.
Georgia College has made a concerted effort to work to increase diversity in the technology field. From hosting the USG Women in IT meeting last summer to providing opportunities for students to attend national conferences, the focus is on empowering women to feel capable in an underrepresented field.
Ridley and Kimball along with six other female technology students recently attended Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing in Orlando. The national event is the world's largest gathering of women technologists. It is produced by AnitaB.org and presented in partnership with Association of Computing Machinery (ACM). The Career Expo there features over 200 companies looking to hire women in IT.
“Grace Hopper is a unique experience. It was not just a job fair or a conference. We are able to hear from some women leaders in the field while also networking and interviewing with potential employers,” said Kimball.
Students interviewed for internships and jobs with companies such as NASA, Microsoft, Pixar, Travelers Insurance and Northrop Grumman. They also were inspired by keynote speakers including Melinda Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Fei-Fei Li, professor and director, Stanford University AI Lab Chief Scientist, Google Cloud AI/ML (artificial intelligence and machine learning).
Goette has taken students to the conference for the last several years, and hopes to increase the number of students who can attend in the future. Past attendees have even started a student organization to help spread the sparks ignited at Grace Hopper to campus.
“Georgia College Women in Technology (GC WIT) was created after several students attended the conference a couple of years ago,” said Ridley, who serves as the current president of the organization. “Now we bring speakers to campus and shine a light on the need of diversity in the field. We also help pay for the attendance fee for one student to the conference.”
It’s opportunities like Grace Hopper and others that Goette hopes reverses the trend of women shying away from IT. She calls Grace Hopper an opportunity to celebrate and encourage diversity while empowering women to realize their full potential.
Most women in the technology field “don’t realize they’re rare,” said Goette.
The problem runs deep with a thin pipeline to encourage K-12 females to take interest in the IT field. Both college women and their faculty mentors agree the need is great to show young girls that a career in technology is possible.
“That’s something GC WIT is really hoping to focus on—getting into local schools to show the opportunities in the IT field,” said Ridley.
One step at a time, these women hope to show others that it’s not just a man’s world in IT.
Meet Chancelynn and Kali:
Major: Management information systems
Graduation: May 2018
Activities: Current President of GC Women in IT
Future plans: She has job offers from two companies —Accenture and Allstate Insurance Company— which she interviewed with at Grace Hopper.
Quote: The biggest challenge for women in IT is to find their niche. Many feel pressured to be the smartest or most techie programmer that they can be, but there are different areas of IT. Find what you’re interested in, and excel in that.
Major: Computer Science
Graduation: May 2019
Activities: Received a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) at Montana State in summer 2017, presented research “Measuring Software Quality: Aggregating from a Security Based Model” at a national symposium.
Future plans: Internship at Travelers Insurance summer 2018, which she received from interviews at Grace Hopper. She also plans to go to graduate school.
Quote: To girls interested in computer science I’d say be yourself. Don’t underestimate yourself. Work hard and show everyone you can do it. I’m breaking the blond stereotype because I’m proving to myself I’m as good as I think I am.