Where have all the women gone?: Page 3

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Kristin Harkness, a software engineer with more than 15 years of experience, doesn't feel that being a woman has been particularly relevant to her work. She has noticed, though, that it takes her longer to establish herself with her co-workers than it does her male counterparts.

"I'm not sure if that's because I'm female or because I work from home," says Harkness, who has telecommuted full-time as a contract programmer for several financial companies since her daughter was born 10 years ago. Harkness graduated from Wellesley College in 1985 with a BS in Computer Science.

Drumright works hard to make sure that women working for her don't feel the alienation she sometimes felt as a woman in a male-dominated field. Although she doesn't make hiring decisions based on gender, she does try to create diverse programming teams that include women. "I am very conscious of the need for women in technology to have good role models," says Drumright. "So I look for female mentors when they are available." To help women she has hired, she created a mentor program and a "buddy" program.

Getting to the girls

The key to attracting women to a career in technology is to get to them while they're young.

Mentors help junior staffers with professional growth issues, like business skills or technical skills. They also provide aspiring women technology professionals with role models, something that is sorely needed in the field, Drumright says. "Buddies" take a new employee under their wing, take her to meetings, or out to lunch, and make sure that she knows a friendly face in the new environment.

"As women, we forget to support each other as peers," she says. "We don't have a strong enough voice, but when we back each other good things start to happen. I am very conscious of the need for women in technology to have good role models, so I look for female mentors when they are available."

Drumright also offers all of her employees a flexible schedule, a benefit that is especially attractive to working mothers. Her staff can work variable hours, work from home a few days, and stay home when their child is sick.

This kind of flexibility is what Harkness finds particularly appealing about her chosen career.

"This is a fabulous field for women," she says. "It's highly lucrative, and it's a field that allows lots of flexibility. That combination makes it a powerful choice for working mothers."

Turning it around

The key to combating the decline of women in technology is to fight the stereotype of computer professionals working in a solitary, sedentary world, according to the recommendations in the American Association of University Women report. Educators and employers need to let girls understand the reality that all jobs, from the arts to law and medicine, will require more computer knowledge. Women and girls must also learn that a career in the sciences can mean a flexible job with high pay.

Drumright, who knew as a girl that technology would have a huge impact on her life and on society, agrees with the report's recommendations.

"We need to get out there and show girls what a career in technology can mean to them," she says. //

Valle Dwight is a freelance writer in Northampton, Mass.



Getting to the girls

The key to attracting women to a career in technology is to get to them while they're young. In its report on technology and girls, the American Association of University Women calls for the support and creation of computing clubs, summer-school classes, mentoring programs, science fairs, and other programs that encourage girls to see themselves as capable of careers in technology. Here's a look at a few innovative programs around the country that support and encourage girls in the sciences:

  • Girls Middle School -- The curriculum in this girls-only middle-school in Mountain View, Calif., focuses on science, technology, and math (about 40% of class time is devoted to the sciences).
  • Girlstart -- This Austin, Texas-based nonprofit organization is dedicated to promoting math, science, and technology-related skills for girls ages 9 to 15. The organization has many innovative programs, including a Girls' Technology Center, that provide hands-on learning opportunities for girls. At Girlstart's Summer Camps, girls create their own Web pages, participate in hands-on math and science activities, and meet women working in nontraditional careers.
  • Eyes to the Future project -- This mentoring program, based in Cambridge, Mass., links middle-school girls with high-school girls who are interested in math and science, and with women in technology and science careers. The goal of the program is to expand girls' visions of career options in the sciences. The program, which started in the fall of 1997, is based at TERC Inc., a research and development organization committed to improving mathematics and science learning and teaching.
  • The Women of NASA -- NASA's online program encourages girls to pursue a career in science and technology. The project includes interactive chats with mentors, profiles of notable women, and tips for teachers to help integrate the information in their classrooms.
  • NetPrep GYRLS -- This national collaboration program between the YWCA and 3Com Corp. will offer high-school girls free, nationwide training in computer networking, resulting in industry-standard certification.
  • --V.D.


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