by Patricia Frost
Contributing Editor

This past Friday, I had the opportunity to attend and deliver a plenary speech at the Cyber Trainsitions Conference hosted by the University of Central Florida at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Florida.

My topic was “Integrating Women and Underrepresented Communities into the Cyber Workforce.”

After discussing the contributions women and underrepresented groups have made to computer programming, we transitioned to a robust discussion over various initiatives to improve the number of women and minorities pursuing STEM education and careers.  Here are a few highlights:

Primary and Secondary STEM Education/Programs:Many organizations have made profound changes and increased middle school and high school students’ access and participation in STEM education.  Some important programs are:  Girls Who Code, Black Girls Who Code, the National Center for Women and Information Technology, and the Level the Playing Field Institute’s SMASH program.  These programs focus on providing technology education to help rectify the underrepresentation of girls and minorities in the technology industry.

Sponsorship and Mentorship: Fewer than 50% of women and minorities have mentors.  Mentors and sponsors not only offer actionable career advice, but also open doors through networking and introductions to powerful contacts.  They also actively advocate for their proteges for promotions and other career enhancing experiences.  

Recommendations for Corporations:

  • Develop and implement a “Career Day” and job shadowing program for local middle and high school students.  
  • Develop internships for both high school and college students.
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of diversity and inclusion initiatives.

Broken Rung:  Be cognizant of the “broken rung.” While much attention and focus has been made to increase the number of women and minorities in the C-suite;  many women run into obstacles trying to advance to the first rung of the management ladder. It’s early in many women’s careers, not later, when women fall dramatically behind men in promotions: this gender gap increases exponentially with every step up the ladder. 

We can and must do better.  I’m issuing a call to action to you.  We know we need to create change both in academia and industry in regard to women and underrepresented groups in technology; and we should collectively pursue and adopt practices that create cultures and environments in which all people thrive.

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