What's Missing from the Conversation about Women in STEM

As a non-technical female working in the technology industry for the last 20+ years, I’ve found that not being technical has been much less of a career-limiter for me than being female.Not being technical, I bring a unique and different perspective to the table that has always been perceived as adding value, and never have I felt unintelligent, even when I don’t have knowledge on a subject. If I start my sentence with, This may be a dumb question, but…, the response is always well-received as something the techies or upper management have not thought of or even considered. Many times, my perspective takes the conversation or the solution in a different direction and to a whole new level.I have led both technical and non-technical organizations that are highly diverse in both gender and ethnicity. Like many other women in my field, my challenges in climbing the ladder can be attributed to not being part of the “boys’ club,” not realizing how to successfully navigate the politics of my organization, or not understanding the informal power and decision-making structures in an organization.The realization that diversity drives better innovation and produces a bigger financial bottom line has driven the tech industry to adopt aggressive goals around hiring more women and getting more women interested in STEM fields. When I talk with young women, either in the workforce or in school, I hear they are getting encouragement from teachers, mentors, coaches, and managers to look at STEM as a viable and attractive career option.student-849819_1280What I want to know is: what about encouraging these women and students to look at management and leadership careers? Let’s be real: if we had more women in informal and formal leadership positions, we would be much further along with gender equality in many fields, including tech.Why don’t we encourage women to become technical leaders? In a highly technical company, it is very common for brilliant technical individuals to move into management because of their technical expertise. These individuals don’t always make the best managers, though, and many are definitely not great leaders. This isn’t happening because having both technical skills and people skills is rare, but it could be that highly technical people were just never encouraged to cultivate “softer” skills as well.The present opportunity to get to parity in the technology industry is huge, and the push for encouraging STEM education continues to grow. Let’s add a conversation about valuing good management skills to that push. Developing female leaders, whether technical or non-technical, will surely only accelerate achieving our parity goals.