The representation of women in technology in Arizona is lower than we want it to be and far lower than it should be. According to a recent Deloitte report, women have hovered at 30% to 32% of the technology workforce globally since 2019. In technical roles specifically, women make up only 24% of the global workforce. The good news is that these figures are slowly improving, and Deloitte predicts that the total number of women in technology will reach 33% in 2022, but there is a lot more work to do. Arizona sits slightly below the global average at 30.6%, according to the Q1 2022 Arizona Technology Impact Report, the Arizona Technology Council’s quarterly technology report created by eImpact.
Until recently, the industry has cited a lack of applicants as the main reason for the disparity. However, the problem goes much deeper. It begins with a lack of access and support for young girls in STEM and a hostile environment for women working in this industry that many technology companies are just beginning to address. There is also an undeniable absence of women in leadership roles in technology, depriving young girls and women of role models and greatly diminishing the voice that women have in the development of innovative technologies.
I speak for many Arizona technology leaders when I say we are working hard to correct this.
The Council, along with our many partners, are working to resolve the disparity from a few different angles. In 2020, we made the decision to focus on electing women to our board to help us reach 50/50 parity of male to female. The goal of this initiative is to not only reach parity, but to drastically improve the representation of women in technology in leadership roles. It is critical that young women in STEM have role models in technology and that women have a much stronger voice in the top levels of technology companies. Since we made this commitment, we have elected 10 women to our board including technology leaders like Raytheon’s Ivonne May and Intel’s Christine Boles. In addition, the SciTech Institute has elected several women to its board including Dianna McMahon of SRP, Angie Harmon of Freeport-McMoRan, Monica Villalobos of the Hispanic Chamber, Heidi Jannenga of WebPT and Renu Navale of Intel.
Another of the Council’s major initiatives is SciTech Institute’s Chief Science Officers (CSOs) program, which is designed to build excitement and enthusiasm for young students interested in technology. Participating schools encourage girls and boys in middle and high school 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 to impact STEM learning.
The 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 as more than 50% 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 technology 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.
In Tucson, the Council has also established its Women in Workforce Committee. This group of women, headed by Chair Julie Bonner, who also serves as the director of communication for FreeFall Aerospace, advocates for representation in the Southern Arizona and statewide workforce.
These are just a few examples of Council-driven programs. There are many more opportunities available through our partners and member companies for women of all ages to learn more about STEM and meet other exemplary women defying the odds to become technology leaders.
Throughout Phoenix, there are also a wide variety of programs designed for women in technology across industries and age levels. Women Who Code’s Phoenix chapter is one example of an organization that is bringing together female coders to not only encourage and support one another in the industry, but to develop networks to help one another succeed and move up the ladder into executive roles. Girls In Tech Phoenix is a broader industry program helping to solve the gender disparity by helping female entrepreneurs seek funding, developing a job board to help women find technical roles across industries, offering mentoring and so much more.
We’re beginning to take the necessary steps to close the gender gap, but we need support across the Arizona technology ecosystem, from the teachers in classrooms encouraging young girls to get involved in STEM, to technology CEOs and boards of directors that can facilitate the hiring and mentorship of women for executive roles. It is also imperative that corporate America addresses the harassment of women in technology to help create a safe and inviting space for all gender identities, sexual orientations, races, ethnicities and other identities.
I personally call on all technology leaders to take the necessary steps to make this happen promptly. Arizona has the opportunity to set a strong example of what a more diverse, equitable and intentional technology hub can look like, and I can guarantee that the economic ripple effects will be felt by generations to come.
Steven G. Zylstra is the president and CEO of the Arizona Technology Council.