Carol Cain: How to get more women in technology careers

Carol Cain | Detroit Free Press

Few would dispute there is a talent gap when it comes to having the right people for STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) jobs in Michigan and rest of the country.

When it comes to women in those fields, the situation is even grimmer.

Which is why 500 people — including the chief information officers of General Electric, General Motors, Ford, Chrysler, Delta, Cisco, Biogen and others — gathered in Detroit last week to discuss it.

“Today, women hold only 27% of all computer science jobs, and that number isn’t growing,” said Maru Flores, president of the Michigan Council of Women in Technology (MCWT), which held Tuesday’s standing-room-only event for a second year.

Flores, senior manager, global manufacturing development services at Ford, added: “Less than 20% of bachelor’s degrees in computer science go to women, even though female graduates hold 60% of all bachelor’s degrees.”

MCWT is among those working to attract more females to consider technology careers.

“Addressing the issue begins in middle school,” said Teri Takai, former CIO of the U.S. Department of Defense who mentioned girls losing interest. “Sally Ride used to say that when she was young being an astronaut was cool. We need to restore that sense of cool.”

The Detroit Three are working closely with MCWT.

“The GM Foundation is also actively promoting women in STEM fields through the Buick Achievers program,” said Randy Mott, senior vice president and CIO of GM. “To date, the program has given nearly $13 million in financial assistance to women to pursue STEM college majors.”

Mott appeared with Nick Smither, vice president and CIO of Ford, and Scott Sandschafer, vice president and CIO of Chrysler.

Seeing Mary Barra — CEO of GM and first female to hold the top job of an automaker — will hopefully serve as a catalyst.

“Mary’s experience and the fact that she is an engineer by training makes her a terrific role model for girls and women interested in pursuing a degree in science, technology, engineering and math,” Mott said.

Sandschafer spoke of his two middle school-age children and how his wife, an engineer, is working with their daughter to keep her interested in math. He mentioned a website his wife uses in that endeavor: http://code.org/.

“The auto industry is seeing a severe shortage of students and recent graduates entering the workforce with the skills and knowledge necessary to move the business forward, particularly in technological fields,” Smither said. “The situation is particularly acute in the U.S.”

“At Ford we understand that our company’s future success is dependent upon innovating the technologies that not only meet, but exceed, the demands of our customers,” Smither said.

“And exceeding those expectations will only happen with the right talent,” he added.

Speakers for leadership events

The Michigan Political Leadership Program — one of the most unique educational programs in the nation which helps train and educate people for possible careers in politics, announced its two speakers for its upcoming annual dinner/breakfast events.

Best-selling national authors and political pundits Nicolle Wallace (new co-host of “The View”) and Douglas Sosnick will speak at MPLP Feb. 26 in Novi and Feb. 27 in Grand Rapids.

MPLP is also accepting applications for its upcoming class.

The program trains 24 people from diverse professional and occupational backgrounds for 10 months of weekend training.

For more information, call 517-353-0891.

Carol Cain can be reached at 313-222-6732 orclcain@cbs.com. She is senior producer/host of “Michigan Matters” airing 11:30 a.m. Sundays on CBS 62. See WSU President M. Roy Wilson; Stan Jensen, president of Henry Ford College, and Antoine Garibaldi, president of University of Detroit Mercy, on today’s show.

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