Each year, I become more hopeful for the future of equality for women and minorities in Arizona’s expanding technology ecosystem. And while great progress has been made, we still have a long way to go until true equality is achieved. It’s worthwhile to take a look at the remaining barriers, the work we’re doing to achieve our goals and what we’ve accomplished thus far.

Gender bias remains a big issue. According to the National Center for Women & Information Technology, women make up 47 percent of all employed adults in the United States but only 25 percent of computing roles. Women in engineering positions account for only 13 percent of the total U.S. engineering workforce, according to the Society of Women Engineers.

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A look at the cause

The underlying reason there are fewer women who pursue or stay in high-paying jobs in high-tech fields is the persistent culture of discrimination against women. A Pew Research Center report found 50 percent of women surveyed said they had experienced gender discrimination at work. The industry can certainly do more to advocate for young women and minorities in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), and continue to encourage them on opportunities in technology until the cows come home. However, until we fix the “bro culture” largely associated with the technology industry, we won’t get far.

Steven G. Zylstra is president and CEO of the Arizona Technology Council.

One way Arizona’s technology community is trying to solve this issue is by promoting female leadership. As the state’s largest technology trade association and a strong voice for this community, the Arizona Technology Council is pushing for equality. A little over a year ago, the Council’s board of directors and I made the decision to actively appoint more female board members for increased parity, diversity, inclusion and equity. Since January 2020, we have appointed five new female board members.

In addition to this commitment to equity on the board, the Council and other key stakeholders in the technology and economic development community are working to bring FairHire to Arizona. FairHire is a high-end applicant tracking system featuring a fully anonymized, blind-hiring platform backed by behavioral science. The main purpose of the platform is to remove unconscious bias from the hiring process and improve diversity across industry sectors. The goal is to launch FairHire in Arizona in late 2021 or early 2022.

New initiatives

A major initiative of the Council’s and the SciTech Institute is the Chief Science Officer (CSO) program, designed to build excitement and enthusiasm for young students interested in technology. Participating schools encourage girls and boys in grades 6 through 12 to get elected as CSOs by their peers. Youth who become CSOs are invited to a summer leadership institute, where they create a customized action plan aimed at impacting STEM learning.

The CSO program began in Arizona in 2015 and has expanded to 720 children in 10 states and three countries around the world. It aims to cultivate a pipeline of diverse STEM leaders and to help prepare them for college, careers and civic engagement. The program also helps solve the challenge of gender disparity by addressing the problem at the beginning of the pipeline. The program has been successful in this regard because more than 50 percent of the CSOs elected in 2020 were girls. This next generation of technology talent will help inspire even more women to get involved with STEM programs and education to help us reach parity and eliminate gender bias in our industry.

The Council also founded the Tech Inclusion Forum IDEA series to focus on highlighting the inclusion, diversity, equity and awareness (IDEA) challenges facing women and minorities in STEM fields today, and showcase the many extraordinary and accomplished women in Arizona’s tech ecosystem. The goal of the forum is to highlight challenges and triumphs while also providing awareness and tools to hiring managers, top executives, human resources leaders, and experienced and aspiring STEM professionals.

Progress being made

Through these and many other initiatives statewide, we’re certainly making progress. An annual study conducted by SmartAsset concluded Chandler ranks as the 14th best city in the nation for women in technology. Data collected from SmartAsset’s survey and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found women in Chandler make up 28.1 percent of the city’s tech workforce, which was the 18th largest in the study. However, they rank towards the middle of the study for gender pay gap, earning 85 cents for every dollar men make.

A 2020 Arizona Technology Industry Impact Report released by the Council stated 33 percent of Arizona’s technology jobs were held by women. While still nowhere close to an acceptable number, it’s much higher than the national average that hovers around 20 percent to 25 percent, according to Built In, a national community united by a shared passion for technology.

I urge every community around the state to focus on diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives. Take a hard look at your company culture to ensure it’s welcoming to women and minorities. I remain hopeful for Arizona’s technology community, and with the work we’re all putting in, I do expect to report back next year with even more impressive results.


Steven G. Zylstra is the president and CEO of the Arizona Technology Council.