Tech industry diversity is ‘troubling’

In Philadelphia and at Temple, women are underrepresented in some STEM fields.

Entrepreneurs (left to right) Liz Brown, Rakia Finely and Darla Wolfe spoke at the HUE: Tech Talk for Women of Color, an event on Nov. 2 focused on opportunities in tech for women and people of color. | CACIE ROSARIO / THE TEMPLE NEWS

In the late 1990s, Eloise Young worked in the information technology department at the Philadelphia Gas Works office. On some Saturday nights, Young would bring her children into work, letting them play with crayons and glitter in her office cubicle as she worked.

This arrangement, Young said, was necessary for her to spend time with her children.

“IT requires a lot of long hard hours, especially with a family,” said Young, now the senior vice president of strategic planning and information services at PGW.

On Nov. 2, Young, who intermittently studied at Temple in the 1970s and ’80s before graduating from University of Phoenix in 2003, spoke at HUE Tech Talk, a professional event for women of color working in technology fields at the WeWork co-working space on Market Street near 16th. She spoke about the lack of diversity and support for women in the tech industry.

According to a United States Department of Commerce report, “Women in STEM: 2017 Update,” published Monday, women make up about 24 percent of the national STEM workforce, with more women working in the physical and life sciences than in engineering or computer science and math.

In Philadelphia, the percentage of women working in tech is shrinking. In 2015, Philadelphia was ranked first for gender diversity in the tech industry, according to a 2015 study by CBRE, the world’s largest commercial real estate services and investment firm.

The next year, Philadelphia dropped to 10th.

While women made up about 31 percent of the tech workforce in 2015, that percentage dropped to about 28 percent the following year, according to the 2017 State of Women and Girls of Philadelphia report by the Philadelphia Commission for Women.

“The lack of diversity in this industry is troubling,” Young said at the event.

At Temple, the student body reflects this larger inequality.

Last year at Temple, female students made up about 20 percent of the College of Engineering’s total enrollment. In the College of Science and Technology, female students comprised about 46 percent of all students in 2016.

*Vernell Ross is the coordinator of the College of Engineering’s WE2 Summer Program, a weeklong seminar for female high school students entering their sophomore, junior or senior year. The program is meant to encourage the female students’ interest in pursuing an education in one of the fields of engineering.

Each year, the 15 to 25 students get to work on hands-on projects in robotics and different disciplines in engineering, as well as take field trips to NASA and work with professional female engineers.

Ross said that the engineering program needs to be geared more toward women. She suggested having more high school students visit the college and get the opportunity to shadow female engineering students.

“It’s encouraging that this program gets them to come in and see what it’s like,” Ross said. “They don’t get enough of the sciences or they don’t get pulled toward that.”

Kat Osadchuk, a junior math and computer science major, loves math and the possibilities it brings as a field of study.

“Math is abstract, interesting and creative,” Osadchuk said. “It’s so interesting to be creating something out of nothing, something that could change the world.”

Even though she is excited about her potential career, Osadchuk said she isn’t as confident in herself as she would like.

Typically, Osadchuk is one of five women in a classroom of 30 students, she said. For her, this disparity can incite feelings of “imposter syndrome,” a fear that she doesn’t belong in an academic setting even though her performance is equal to or better than many of her male counterparts, she said.

Outside of the classroom, she said these feelings extended into her internship at a small tech company where she was the only woman.

“It was a little discouraging,” Osadchuk said. “I felt like if there are so few women, perhaps it’s hard to make it in this field.”

But Claudia Pine-Simon, a computer and information sciences instructor, said current inequalities in technology fields have not always been so severe.

“In the ’80s, many women were programmers,” Pine-Simon said. “As time passed, personal computers were marketed more toward boys.”

According to the 2017 National Science Foundation report “Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering,” women earned about 29 percent of all bachelor’s degrees in computer sciences in 1995. In 2014, they earned only 18 percent.

“That glass ceiling still exists,” Pine-Simon said. “Women frequently have to work harder than their male counterparts.”

In addition to opportunities for current students, Jamie Bracey, the director of STEM education, outreach and research at the College of Engineering, manages efforts to promote STEM education outside the university.

She coordinates the Pennsylvania branch of the Math Engineering Science Achievement program, a national STEM education program, which is housed at Temple. MESA — which serves nearly 50,000 Pennsylvania K-12 students each year — provides resources for after-school engineering and technology clubs and hosts competitions and educational camps.

“Programs like this can help kids, especially kids of color, make decisions about what they want to do earlier on,” said Bracey, a 2011 educational psychology Ph.D. alumna.

Bracey also spoke as a panelist at the HUE Tech Talk about her experiences as a woman of color working in tech. She said she believes diversity in race, gender and university majors contribute to a tech organization’s success.

“Diversity is important because it is how you make sure multiple perspectives are included,” Bracey said. “Temple can bring this to the table.”

Despite the lack of diversity within her classes, Osadchuk said she has never felt discouraged from studying computer science or been treated differently by her professors. To bring about greater gender parity, she said shifts in thinking need to occur beyond Temple.

“I’m not sure if there’s much Temple can do,” Osadchuk said. ”It’s more of a systematic change. We have to deal with how we [as a society] view women, and how we view STEM careers.”

Emily Scott contributed reporting.

*UPDATE 11 a.m. Tuesday: This story has additional information from Vernell Ross about the WE2 Summer Program.

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