By Elise Awwad, Chief Operating Officer + Scarlett Howery, Vice President of Campus and University Partnerships, DeVry University
There is a clear lack of gender-inclusive representation in STEM, with women making up only 25%
of all computer science-related jobs. In positive news, women interested in pursuing STEM-related education is on the rise
, as job openings in these professions remain at critically high levels.
Recognizing the need to diversify the field of STEM, DeVry University, for example, is focused on supporting female students and creating a path to technology careers through educational offerings that are enhanced by wrap-around support. This work is underscored by the collective desire of women to advance or start their careers in these traditionally male-dominated fields. To move the needle, higher education ecosystems have a responsibility to increase gender diversity in these sectors by presenting versatile learning opportunities that suit student needs and create visibility and confidence for women pursuing STEM fields.
What women need to truly succeed in technology
Creating a greater sense of awareness around available learning options is the difference between a woman deciding to pursue a career in the technology industry or not. This also includes building confidence in women to embark on journeys in fields dominated by men. The lack of representation is astounding when we consider the fact that employment in STEM occupations has grown 79%—increasing from 9.7 million to 17.3 million
since 1990 and only 28% of this space
is occupied by women. This sentiment rings especially true for women in underserved communities who are at further disadvantage due to a lack of access to, and awareness around, STEM. It is an almost insurmountable feat to overcome without proper resources and support at their disposal.
Leveraging programs that expose women interested in these jobs to like-minded professionals is critical. Research shows that 74% of middle school girls
express an interest in tech-focused academia, but only 0.4% choose computer science as their college major. In parallel, 63% of middle school girls
who know women in STEM feel empowered to pursue STEM. Organizations may not be as aware of the constraints that exist for women looking to break into the industry, but some academic institutions are intimately familiar with the fact that not all learners meet one archetype. Flexible education makes accomplishing learning goals and balancing external obligations a tangible reality.
The purpose of educational institutions is exactly that—to educate, but it goes beyond the classroom. By providing support throughout a woman’s academic life cycle, institutions will provide measurable results in addressing the gender disparity we are seeing in tech. Women may dream of pursuing a career in technology or up-leveling their current career to be more tech-focused, but it is up to educators to provide actionable solutions to get there, through personalized career counseling combined with flexible education.
Access to flexible education programs can empower women to seek careers in the industry
While enrollment in higher education has doubled in the last two decades
, it is important to recognize that these numbers do not represent access for all learners. Academic institutions can establish adaptable programming to provide women with what they need to succeed, which is oftentimes flexibility.
This curriculum can take various forms and should be guided by current and future market trends while also acting as a springboard for women to dig into technology careers. For example, networking and mentorships act as conduits that give women the chance to build connections and interest within the industry. In addition, internships, apprenticeships, and even some job opportunities expose women to these careers in a hands-on capacity, helping them develop an awareness and interest in the tech field. These efforts become more impactful when academic institutions and employers make a concerted effort to develop a culture that promotes and uplifts ongoing learning and support.
DeVry University recognized the gender disparities in technology and committed to uplifting women through its Women + Tech Scholars Program
. Established in 2021, this program was designed with the hope of closing the skills gap by positioning STEM more visibly in front of women. For instance, over the last six terms, enrollments in our Engineering and Information Sciences career pathways have increased 47% among women, and as of November 2022, the program has welcomed more than 2,000 scholars. Additionally, it helps many women explore and pursue their academic and career passions in the field of STEM and provides them with the guidance and resources to take action.
Without relevant partnerships, intervention, and support, women will continue to struggle to find their way in the STEM industry. Higher education institutions can support women in pursuit of these careers by making them aware of opportunities and guiding them every step of the way to recruit, and more importantly, retain women in the profession. Closing the gender gap in the industry is a problem we should all be invested in solving.
Elise Awwad is DeVry University Chief Operating Officer. She has oversight of all student operations to ensure a positive and consistent experience for students and corporate partners. Awwad leads all admissions functions, student support activities, as well as DeVryWorks, DeVry’s corporate partner department, to provide a student centric journey from inquiry to graduation, creating an innovative model of support rooted in DeVry’s principle of Student Care.
Scarlett Howery is DeVry’s Vice President of Campus and University Partnerships. She provides strategic leadership for DeVry campus operations and maintains critical partnerships within the local communities. Howery drives community engagement, forms strategic partnerships to foster student learning and offers workforce solutions.
Opinions expressed by the author are not necessarily those of WITI.
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