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Changing the face of the technology workforce

While the number of women taking on STEM fields is growing, technology jobs are still male-dominated.

UPDATE: The TECS program is enrolling K-12 teachers in Chicago beginning in January of 2016. 

The number of technology jobs across the globe is skyrocketing. Studies estimate computing jobs will more than double by 2020, reaching into the millions. Yet underrepresented groups are not finding the paths to jump into the technology boom. Professor of Technology Anu Gokhale is part of an initiative to change that.

Gokhale and Professor Emeritus Kent Machina are helping to spearhead a program to give more high school teachers the credentials to teach computer science. Known as Teacher Education in Computer Science (TECS), the National Science Foundation-funded initiative is already being cultivated in the Chicago Public School system.

“More and more, computer science is being accepted to fulfill math or science credits in high schools,” said Gokhale. “Having a math, science, or technology teacher who could also teach computer science will not only benefit the districts, it will open the doors to more students who might not have considered computing as a future career path.”

Increasing diversity in computer science does more than balance the scales for underrepresented populations, noted Gokhale, it infuses the field with needed energy and ideas. “For us to stay on the cutting edge, we need more diverse minds to create innovative solutions to technology problems.”

Students who are typically underrepresented in technology need to begin by being comfortable in settings like computer science classrooms. “To recruit all young people into technology fields, we need a diversity of students in the classroom,” said Gokhale. “Students can identify when they see someone like them, and say, ‘Oh that person can do it, so can I.’”

Professor of Technology Anu Gokhale

Professor of Technology Anu Gokhale

Gokhale has worked for decades to try and help students see past the mythical roadblocks keeping them from pursuing technology studies and jobs. Through the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), she has visited junior high and high school classrooms to show that technology is not as scary as people think. “For so long, we have made it sound like only these elite people can go into the field, and that results in young people not having the self-confidence to even look at technology.”

TECS will help teachers introduce computer science to students at a younger age, and perhaps reach students who might never have considered the field. Gokhale hopes the program will infuse underrepresented students with the confidence to overcome the illusions that might hamper them.

“Studies show that if you ask a female student how she did on a test—without knowing the score—she will say, ‘Oh I did pretty bad,’” said Gokhale. “But if you ask a male student, he would say, ‘Oh I did fine.’ It’s a difference of how one perceives oneself. Women may be very good at math or science, but they do not think they are.”

Gokhale believes the same principles are in play for all underrepresented groups. “It’s a misconception based on self-esteem. People are told they are not good enough, and they believe it before they even try.”

While the number of women taking on STEM fields is growing, technology jobs are still male-dominated. Large companies like Google, Facebook, and Apple report that men outnumber women 4-to-1 in their technical areas.

According to the National Science Foundation’s National Science Board, women and other underrepresented groups are earning about half of all bachelor’s degrees in science, yet a majority of those degrees are in psychology and biological, agricultural, and social sciences. Men remain the high degree earners in engineering, computer sciences, and physics.

“Research shows that even when women and other underrepresented groups go into technical fields, they drop out. One of the reasons cited is that they do not have the social network at their workplace to actually help them succeed,” said Gokhale. “We need a critical mass to tip the scales, and make the technology workplace somewhere everyone can offer ideas and grow.”

A growing number of underrepresented groups in the technology field may help to change the face of the workforce, said Gokhale. And creating that critical mass starts in the classroom.

To speak with Gokhale, contact Media Relations at MediaRelations@IllinoisState.edu, or at (309) 438-5631.