Paving the way for women in Tech: Fostering young girls’ enthusiasm for STEM

In the late 90s, when I was pursuing my studies in engineering, only a few girls enrolled in any STEM-related courses. While it was our love for math & science and the prospect of future opportunities that brought us here, we sadly found many of them gave up halfway through the course, and those who graduated either quit or never entered the profession. 

Fast forward to 2021, digital competencies, such as programming, are fast becoming a prerequisite in all areas of employment, with 90% of occupations requiring such digital skills.  More than ever before, girls and women are showing interest in pursuing STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) careers. According to statistics by Singapore’s Ministry of Education, there has been a 3% increase in the number of women pursuing STEM university degrees from 2017 to 2019, as reported by The Straits Times. 

Despite companies in the tech industry trying to be more inclusive and diverse, gender diversity still remains an issue. An article by CIO shed further light on the retention gap of women in the STEM field, where only 38% of women who majored in computer science currently work in this field, compared to 53% of men. Within Cloudera, we recognise that it takes ongoing efforts for us to achieve a truly diverse representation. 

Retaining women in tech is also proving to be a challenge, which can be due to many factors such as gender inequities, lack of career growth opportunities, and lower salaries compared to men in similar positions. 

The question remains: How can we make a career in tech more attainable for women?

As a father of two girls, I started to reflect on what makes a great woman in tech leader, and if you look carefully, you will hear these leaders say this one theme again and again; it all begins at home. 

How can fathers help daughters pursue STEM?

My Family and I

Perhaps the answer lies in introducing our children, and especially our girls, to tech, science, math, arts, and engineering fields at a young age for them to discover more possibilities open to them. I think it’s time that we remind ourselves of the important role that family plays in encouraging our children’s passions in their interests from early childhood, right through to making their career choices. Recently, I had the opportunity to chat with four of my fellow dads and a female colleague on how this could be achieved at our recent webinar. In view of Father’s Day, we thought it’d be a fun way to celebrate being a dad in tech and share anecdotes of life with our children.  

Here are some of my key takeaways from the session:

Providing early exposure to technology

With programming and robotics classes in countries like Japan and Singapore becoming more prevalent, getting children exposed to technology at an early age is no longer difficult. Building an early foundation with tools like coding applications for kids helps to create familiarity and receptiveness towards technology in their later years. Balaji Vellaichamy, Senior Solutions Consultant at Cloudera Singapore, shared how his 5-year-old daughter’s robotics class allows students to practice programming their robots’ movements, which stimulates their logical thinking and positions technology as a problem-solving tool.

Beyond problem solving skills, technology can also create a world of wonder for the younger ones too. Go Harada, Cloud Lead at Cloudera Japan, is starting his two-year-old daughter young, by using tech in his bonding sessions with her – his daughter believed that Go was a magician when he was coding for a program! Likewise, Zhen Zeng, Sales Engineering Manager at Cloudera Japan also highlighted that technology has also helped him and his daughter to bond while learning the English language together. 

Smashing gender stereotypes

However, it is unfortunate that common misconceptions surrounding the world of tech remain in the minds of many, such as the industry being viewed as “geeky”. Generally perceived as a boys’ club, the tech space seems to present fewer opportunities for women. Women may be discouraged to enter the industry when they are unable to envision their own success if they do not see female role models that they can identify with.This could be a main reason for the lack of young girls choosing technology as a career path, which adds to the talent crunch in the tech sector.

Our special guest for the session, Danielle Matthews, Solutions Consultant at Cloudera ANZ recounted that she carried the same misconception when she was younger – these were only addressed when she ended up joining the tech industry to pursue data analysis work.

Therefore, she believes it is important to take any chance to debunk these misconceptions with the younger generation, especially for girls who feel hesitant to join the tech space. By revamping the tech industry’s image, girls might hopefully continue to keep their career options open, and not miss the opportunity to work in a dynamic field that impacts our everyday lives.

Fostering support to women as unique individuals

While it is encouraging to see the active role that fathers or parents are taking to cultivate a healthy and positive mindset towards technology, it can get overwhelming if expectations are built for their daughters to pursue a career in technology.

As a father to a 19-year-old daughter pursuing Business Administration, Vinod Ganesan, Regional Sales Director at Cloudera India, is a believer of encouraging his daughter to pursue her passion by giving her the freedom of choice and supporting her needs. His daughter realises how pervasive tech and data are, and that these would still be a major influence on her life in future, despite not entering the tech and data industry. 

Likewise, in the sphere of tech, families should be focused on providing support and opportunities to individuals regardless of the path they choose, instead of merely honing in on gender representation. Danielle reiterated that where supporting women in tech is concerned, we should always remember we are supporting a unique individual. No woman in tech should feel the burden nor shoulder the weight of representing their gender alone.

Personally, I feel fortunate to have found my love in tech and be part of a company that pushes other industries forward with our solutions, while making an impact on gender equality, LGBTQ rights, among others.

While gender parity in technology is still a work-in-progress, As a father, my hope is that girls will continue to pursue their interest in tech, to push humanity forward and impact lives with no barriers holding them back.

And to the dads who are keeping the magic of tech alive in their daughters’ lives, let’s continue to be intentional in embracing their uniqueness and supporting their interests because the future is theirs for the taking!

George Kuruvilla
George Kuruvilla

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