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How Women Will Shape the Future of Tech

Julie Elberfeld, Senior Vice President of Shared Technology, Capital One
March 21, 2019

We've all seen the headlines about women leaving the tech industry. They're true, but they are also only part of the story.

Roughly 56% of women leave the technology industry by the mid-level point in their careers, according to a 2008 Center for Work-Life Policy study. These women are who I call "pipeline victims," driven out of a promising career because of barriers like sexism and advancement difficulties. Their stories are real. Their experiences are valid. And their challenges deserve amplification.

My question is: What about the other 44% who stay in tech?

At Capital One, where I lead a complex portion of our cloud technology journey, I am inspired by the many women technologists and allies thriving in tech positions. As we continue in a digital revolution, the technology industry is in critical need of diverse talent that will elevate team effectiveness and mitigate unintended bias in machine-learning driven products. With a continued spotlight on the significant issues facing our country's technology workforce, we are investing in local and national initiatives to help girls and women of all races, as well as men of color, in all stages of their technological journey.

Here are three pieces of advice for women in tech roles or preparing for a career in tech

Get in and stay in
As it stands, many professional industries fail to reflect the diversity of the United States. Within technology, women make up half of the college-aged population, but they earn only 18% of Bachelor's degrees in the computer sciences, according to a collaborative 2018 study from the Kapor Center, Arizona State University, and Pivotal Ventures. While women of color make up 39% of the female-identified population in the United States, the same study revealed another shocking discrepancy: Women of color make up less than 10% of all Bachelor's degrees earned in computing.

These stats need to change and the change can begin right here. The systemic and cultural barriers that keep women from staying in tech are real, but we can change them. Your presence alone as a female technologist creates natural role modeling. And surrounding yourself with peers and allies who share your passion and push for equality is critical. The more we talk about diversity and inclusion at work or at school, the more comfortable people around us will feel using inclusive language and asking new questions.

Develop valuable skills
To truly keep doing your best work, choose and ask for meaningful assignments. Sometimes women are given the managing, communicating and presenting tasks on team projects, while their male counterparts hone their tech skills. Ensure you push for equal opportunities for your coworkers or classmates to be visible and work on developing skills that will best prepare you for the next step in your career. The best groups include people with greater "social sensitivity," or individuals who are good at reading between the lines and focusing on non-verbal cues; accept this important role women tend to play on teams or class projects to make the entire team more effective.

Find the peers and leaders who can amplify your voice
Make the people in your life aware that diversity and inclusion is everyone's challenge to solve. Invite and empower them to join your efforts. If you want to start a new diversity initiative at your company or campus, identify senior leaders who will support you and elevate your ideas. When two software engineers came into my office to talk about the declining representation of women in technology, they put forth challenges and opportunities that we could address in the short term. That one meeting, though, turned into a working group, which developed into an enterprise-wide committee, an allies program, and then local chapters at Capital One offices across the country and internationally.

I consider myself lucky that diversity and inclusion initiatives make up half of my full-time job, and I believe it is critical for technology executives and university leaders to have an intense focus on D&I efforts. At Capital One, inclusive practices are embedded in the company culture to provide a strong foundation for our tech teams to solve for higher level and longer term challenges.

As a woman technologist, being who you are and doing what you're doing at this time in history is critical to ensure a more robust, skilled, and representative workforce for the future. The power of diversity in combating the risk of new challenges like bias in machine learning and AI is more important than ever before. Whether you realize it or not, you are a positive role model for women and men to show them what the face of technology looks like.

A version of this article also appeared in Business Insider.