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Faculty, students discuss women’s role in tech fields

The Women’s Center holds monthly round table discussions that address pressing topics and how they affect women and gender. For the month of September, the Women’s Center held a discussion to address the topic of Women in Technology.

Alumna Liz Saloka graduated from UMBC spring 2017 with a bachelors in interdisciplinary studies. Her field of study was “Gender Equality in Computing,” a program which she created herself involving gender and women’s studies, psychology, education and leadership courses.

“There is definitely a gender bias in STEM fields. At the education level, it is proven that STEM teachers grade female students more strictly than male students,” said Saloka. “At the career level, there have been studies with identical resumes, but one has a male name at the top, and the other a female name. The applications with the male name were viewed as more hire-able and were typically offered higher salaries than the applications with the female name.”

“Young girls are just as interested in science and math as young boys are,” Saloka said. “However, as they continue their education, young girls are told by their parents, teachers, media and peers that STEM fields are for boys.” Saloka believes there are two methods to supporting women in these fields — role models and exposure.

The Women’s Center roundtable echoed many of these same issues. After the discussion was rescheduled from a snow-out in March of this year, there was a big push for this discussion to come back to campus as soon as possible, so the anticipation and excitement for the discussion was high at the Women’s Center, even if the overall turnout wasn’t as expected. The discussion consisted of Jess Myers, discussion moderator and Director of the Women’s Center, and three qualified speakers. The panelists were Danyelle Ireland, associate director the the Center for Women in Technology, Marie desJardins, associate dean of the College of Engineering and Information Technology, and Katie Dillion, senior and CWIT scholar.

The discussion started out by displaying some key statistics about women in technology. Only 30 percent of employees in technology companies are women, for example, while in 2013, women earned 57 percent of bachelor’s degrees.

  • Women in tech fields peaked in the 80’s
  • Each year women pursuing careers in tech fields goes down 0.5 percent

After addressing the key statistics, speakers went on to discuss some of these issues.

Danyelle Ireland, associate director for the Center for Women in Technology was the first to speak. She talked about why women are underrepresented in technology fields. She discussed lack of interest, which could be attributed to the presupposition of peers, teachers, parents and media constantly attributing tech fields to men, and discouraging women from pursuing them. Other issues cited were lack of exposure, lack of role models, socialization, gender bias and sexism in the workplace.

Next, Marie desJardins, associate dean of the College of Engineering and Information Technology, discussed the exclusive marketing of personal computers and video games were exclusively marketed to men, which likely could’ve hurt the appeal of tech to women. The next thing on the list, was the introduction to AP computer science in schools, which created an uneven playing field in colleges. This uneven playing field was do to the fact that there are many prerequisites to AP computer science, and Marie went on to say that to get into the class, you pretty much had to have your mind made up that you wanted to work in technology before entering high school. Some other issues she went on to talk about were innate brilliance modeling, life goals, misogyny culture and hyper critical culture.

Katie Dillon, senior CWIT scholar, was the last to speak. Dillion shared stories about her experiences both from her internship at Google for the past two summers, and in the classroom. She recounted how at Google she would often be the only woman in the room, prompting some people to mistake her for human relations or sales, rather than being an engineer. Other issues Katie faces included isolation, misogyny and the highly controversial diversity manifesto that came out from Google over the summer. Though Katie had her struggles in the workforce, she did say that “UMBC is a great place for women in technology.”