Need to address the dropout rate of women in tech: Paula Stern

HYDERABAD (AP) -02-12-2013 - BL/ REPORT : VRK ( SPL STORY) - THE BOOM TIME : Software employees at Microsoft facility in Hyderabad . Despite the issues of uncertainity and bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh , the IT sector of Cyberabad is to see a manifold rise in job prospects in the near future . -PHOTO: P.V.SIVAKUMAR

Bengaluru, November 10



Paula Stern, Chairwoman of The Stern Group, a public policy advisory company, has never seen such dynamic shifts as a result of technology in her over three decades of work. The former Chairwoman of US International Trade Commission spoke to BusinessLine at the ‘Unlocking US-India trade potential’ conference on the need for a greater push of upskilling, the continued biases women face in technology and whether the efforts taken by outsourcing companies in the US are bearing fruits.

Is technology moving at a pace faster than people’s ability to catch up with it?

We need to bear in mind that technology now is all pervasive, constantly changing and impacting society. Different countries are adopting it and are in varied stages of using it to improve citizen interface. Ultimately, the most important consideration for any nation should be to educate its young citizens and gear them up for life-long learning. This is because the turnover of skills is so rapid. This naturally translates into rapid adoption for individuals. No longer does a set of skills hold life-long relevance.

So, is skills upgradation happening at a wider scale?

People ready to adapt to these changes but the outcome is spotty so far.

For example, in the US, shaping of curriculum is in the purview of 50 States and local authorities within those States. Some States do it better than others. Take the case of computer science. It is a new idea in the K-12 curriculum. To me that is a sign of terrible neglect. I work with National Centre for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT), which was initially funded by US National Science Foundation, we realised that it was not just the girls but even the boys who were unable to get computer science in classes. To rectify this, we have worked hard to encourage each and every State to adopt computer science in the curriculum.

Additionally, we had to train teachers in computer science, work at the fed level for US government funds be made available for computer science training. The language is the fed level talked about Science Tech Engineering and Maths (STEM). Since computer science was not spelled out, a lot of authorities felt that they did not have the permission to fund computer science. There is a lot of work that still needs to be done like building communities and making computer science cool to students.

This raises larger concern around the capability of workforce to adapt to automation-induced technology shifts...

Absolutely. We have to get the foundation right for everybody. The bigger problem is the decline in participation of women in computer science in the recent past. This is largely due to cultural reasons.

We find that when women graduate in computer science and get their degrees and join the corporate world to take on a tech assignment encounter a variety of barriers and biases which discourage them from staying in the sector. The dropout rate of women in mid-career in tech is twice the dropout rate of men. Hence, a number of things need to be addressed at the corporate world.

There are issues of harassment, questions of wages but also other issues that women are not getting the leadership roles in shaping technology innovation. They tend to seek this outside the private sector and often find it easier to express their talent in public sector. So, there are serious problems. What we don’t know is at the post-graduate level, people who do not go into the corporate world, how can they contribute to the future innovation.

Published on November 10, 2017

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