Telle Whitney entered college planning to major in theater. Then she switched to political science. At one point in her undergraduate days, she took a test meant to advise her on career possibilities based on her interests. Programming came out near the top.
“I knew nothing about it,” Whitney said. But, on the basis of that test, she signed up for a COBOL class, and she was hooked. She eventually went on to get a PhD in computer science from Caltech in 1985 and then on to work with her friend Anita Borg at the Anita Borg Institute (ABI) where she is now President and CEO.
It’s an example of how young women often don’t know what career opportunities are available, especially in technology. Colleges are doing more to encourage students to explore different options throughout their education and in particular to introduce them to tech careers.
Not Much Has Changed
Whitney’s first computer science professor was a woman. She had female classmates and colleagues, but they were vastly outnumbered by men. Today, there are more women in technology fields, but that’s largely because there are more technology-related jobs out there. However, the percentage of women in tech is about the same as it was 40 years ago.
The goals today shouldn’t simply be attracting women into tech fields, but also retaining them in these jobs. “The problem isn’t just about entering or a pipeline issue. Women leave at twice the rate of men,” Whitney said.
Building a network
Along with research on how to make women feel more comfortable in tech classroom settings, Whitney encourages women to help each other in the workplace. Reach out to new female employees. Mentor high school students. Attend events like the Grace Hopper Celebration.
“Women belong at the table to create technology,” said Whitney. “It’s better for all of us when women are involved.”