As a city on the rise, San Antonio needs a skilled, educated workforce to build its future. Despite the ambitious strides that have been made, especially in the technology field, women continue to be underrepresented in all levels of corporate positions.
In 2015, the National Center for Women and Information Technology reported that only 25% of the computing workforce were women, and less than 10% were women of color (5% Asian, 3% African-American, and 1% Hispanic).
Why are women so drastically underrepresented in tech leadership positions? The answers in a 2015 McKinsey study point to multiple factors that contribute to women facing greater barriers to advancement and a steeper path to senior leadership, especially in tech careers.
San Antonio IT Symposium: Attracting and Retaining Women in Tech
A lack of female mentors, the need to build leadership skills for women to fill top positions, and an uneven "playing field," factors described in the McKinsey study, were also mentioned in the Attracting and Retaining Women in Technology session at the San Antonio IT Symposium Wednesday.
Barbara Hewitt founded San Antonio Women in Technology in 2007 to "foster women of all ages from before they decide to choose a career in IT throughout their education, career, and beyond." Hewitt moderated the panel discussion on how to encourage women to pursue technology careers.
Shelia Anderson, USAA vice president and P&C division chief information officer, admitted that the "competition for women in technology is pretty fierce.” USAA and other major corporations in the United States have a vested interest in solving the lack of diversity crisis due to the pressing need for science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) professionals.
USAA put specific programs in place to develop the pipeline for women, including the Aspire community, which USAA formed more than two years ago. Aspire team members encourage and support women in information technology by going out into the community to mentor young women and girls interested in STEM jobs.
Deborah Carter, director of the Open Cloud Academy at Rackspace, told symposium participants about Linux for Ladies, an IT job training bootcamp within Open Cloud Academy that has graduated 42 women in two cohorts since its inception in 2014. Program graduates commit to working full-time in IT for at least 18 months within Bexar County in exchange for the free, 10-week-long course that otherwise costs $3,500 per student.
But the need to focus attention and resources on encouraging more women to pursue technology careers may need to start even sooner.
"We typically have 300 entry level hires locally," said Sandy Schlortt, delivery operations lead at Accenture Federal Services. "We focus on local schools to find those hires, but sometimes we have to find that talent outside the local area."
Accenture's programs to target local students include digital internships that focus on technology skill sets, the Campus Summer Challenge, which is a series of weekly tasks aimed at inspiring students to learn about Accenture, and the Innovation Challenge, which combines hands-on consulting experience with the opportunity to make a positive impact on society.
"We prefer to build up those resources locally, with targeted leadership programs to help encourage women to seek tech opportunities in the workforce," Schlortt added.
The panel stressed the important role that mentors and role models play in encouraging young women to pursue technology careers. Early formative experiences made a profound difference for the panelists – whether it was an engineering summer camp, a dedicated math tutor, or a family member who encouraged math and science because it was "cool."
But what about women who are already in the workforce and want to build the local community of women in tech?
Women of TechBloc
An ongoing effort to encourage more women to pursue tech careers is the Women of TechBloc initiative that kicked off March 1 in a sold out event at Rackspace.
"We saw so much energy and hunger for activation following the event, we decided to launch the Women of TechBloc Action Planning session (Aug. 25 at The DoSeum)," said Marina Gavito, TechBloc COO.
Close to 100 attendees at the planning session were encouraged to develop action-focused plans that would transform vision into reality and help brand San Antonio as a vibrant tech ecosystem, especially for women.
"During this session, we broke into groups and thought about how we want to move the needle forward for women in tech in San Antonio," Gavito said. "We also discussed specific next steps could we take to help us get there. We have set up a Women of TechBloc executive committee that will be held accountable to guiding the group on reaching two to three of our goals in 2017."
Diane Dowdell, adjunct professor of marketing and management at St. Mary's University who moderated a group at the Women of TechBloc event, stressed the group's mandate to "change the disturbing trend of women leaving STEM."
"For me, its been amazing to see so many leaders stepping up to make a difference in our community," Gavito said. "The passion, energy, and brains are all there. I’m excited to see what this group does next."
Debra Innocenti, a partner at Strasburger Attorneys at Law, and Drue Placette, CanOpener.io CEO, also were panelists at the San Antonio IT Symposium. They addressed forecasting and resolving risk when storing data in the cloud.
As a technology lawyer, Innocenti is technically agile, adept at navigating the legal ambiguities that beset clients in technology-related transactions. Her presentation at the symposium focused on key considerations when selecting a cloud service provider (CSP), legal issues in negotiating CSP agreements, and how to navigate disputes and data breaches.
"We need to do what we can to reduce the barriers to entry," Innocenti told the Rivard Report before the symposium panel, "whether from an economic standpoint for clients who cannot afford to pursue expensive litigation, or for women who are facing challenges in the tech workforce."
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article misspelled Shelia Anderson's name and was missing the second part of her title as P&C division chief information officer.
Top image: From left to right: Shelia Anderson, vice president and chief information office for USAA, Deborah Carter, director of the Open Cloud Academy at Rackspace, and Sandy Schlortt, delivery operations lead at Accenture Federal Services discuss ways to retain women in tech at the San Antonio IT Symposium. Photo by Scott Ball.