We all know it matters. We all know it has to change. So here’s the question: How much of our concern is translating to reality?
We’re talking about the lack of women in computer science.
Women compose at least half of the American workforce, but only a quarter of the workers in IT. Among the women in computer science, the sweeping majority earn a living in accounting, marketing, and back office work—not coding. Nine out of ten executives in Silicon Valley are men.
If the tech industry invents the future, why does it look so much like the past?
Hate the Now or Build the New?
Ninety-five percent of the people who own tech startups are male. Let’s look at the other five percent. Actually, let’s move past those stats and meet a real person.
Lauren Jerome is the director of technology, co-founder, and co-owner of Mindbox Studios, a team of tech ninjas who build web and mobile apps for businesses. Studying mechanical engineering in college, Lauren had no female professors. The overwhelming majority of her classmates were male, but that majority didn’t overwhelm Lauren. She was a lifelong tomboy.
Hold on. Doesn’t the word tomboy assume that certain activities belong to women and certain ones belong to men? Maybe, but Lauren’s parents had refused to raise their children that way.
“I’m incredibly grateful to have grown up with amazing teachers and opportunities,” Lauren says. “My parents treated all of their children equally in terms of what they introduced us to and expected of us.”
Pivot to What Matters Most
Just before Lauren was scheduled to start law school, her mother grew ill. She decided to take some time away from school. This season of pain sharped Lauren’s vision for her future. She had considered a career in tech copyright law, but conversations with her friend Joshua Johnson, helped her discover her deeper passion.
“I realized that in law, I would be working to protect innovative ideas for others, but it wouldn’t necessarily be innovative or novel on its own. I was interested in building products that would make a difference in everyday life.”
That conversation drew Lauren to join Mindbox Studios, which Joshua Johnson had founded in 2007. The company’s mobile and web apps do what Lauren dreamed: They make a difference in everyday life, across a spectrum of fields.
Lauren didn’t realize that she was walking a lonely road by leading the tech side of a tech company as a woman. Joshua didn’t realize it either.
“Yeah, to be honest,” he says, “it never crossed my mind. I grew up in a house full of sisters. My mom launched several small businesses. My aunt has run a business into her eighties. These women walked into whatever field they loved and just made it better.”
Today, Lauren recognizes the balance at the core of Mindbox’s team as the company’s greatest asset. Technology turns on a dime. Because of the Mindbox team’s broad range of backgrounds and skills, they’ve been able to adapt and meet the needs of the people they serve.
If You See the Future, Change It
At times, the challenge has been protecting that diversity. A few years ago, a community member was helping Mindbox recruit a technical lead. Lauren referred to the candidate as “him or her.” The friend laughed, which startled Lauren.
“If we found a woman for this role,” he said, “we would keep her for ourselves.”
What’s Silicon Valley missing with such a gender imbalance? Lauren hesitates to answer that kind of question. She doesn’t want to stereotype. In fact, she points to the thousands of men who feel locked out of the tech industry for similar reasons.
Still, many have wondered how Apple delivered an app that tracked gads of health data, from vitals to sleep cycles, but ignored reproductive health stats for over a year. Would more female developers create more products that speak to women? Would the industry become more empathetic toward more end users?
This past summer, Lauren accepted an invitation to join RAIN, an accelerator in Eugene, Oregon. She and the team at Mindbox are creating Ascend, an app that promises to simplify life for decision-makers in business. Things are changing, she says. Women are leading half of the startups in the accelerator. Meanwhile, Lauren and a group of women in Eugene have also crafted a list of resources for women who are considering a path in tech.
“The timing couldn’t be better,” she says. “If you work hard, you’ll find a ton of opportunities. The lack of U.S. based resources and the gender divide make you a very attractive candidate. It’s creative problem solving! Tell me you don’t love that.”
Joshua Johnson adds that success comes from understanding oneself:
“I think it comes down to following your heart,” he says. “As long as I’ve known her, Lauren has focused on what she loves. We both wanted to start a tech company. We raced toward that goal with blinders on. We weren’t strategizing that her gender would qualify us for some grant or differentiate us in some way. We just each focused on our passion, building great apps.”
Can more and more women hear the invitation to explore their creative gifts in tech? Can we amplify the invitation above today’s droning homogeneity? If Lauren Jerome’s story is any indication, then yes, it’s totally worth it.