Women continue to be underrepresented in tech fields, and once in, find it difficult to get into managerial roles.
Recent studies show that women remain highly underrepresented in software engineering (14% of the total workforce) and computer science-related jobs (25%). In fact, women software engineer hires have only increased 2% over the last 21 years.
"I think because it's such a male-dominated industry it can sometimes feel, as a woman, that you don't belong," said Viviana Abrego, a network engineer at BOK Financial®. "You'll look around you and see that you're the only woman in a room of men a lot of the time, and it can be quite easy in those moments to let the worry of not being taken seriously, not listened to or forgotten to overwhelm you and bring you down.
The landscape appears to be changing. Between 2020 and 2021, women were on average 41% of all applicants in the tech industry—a 400% increase over the preceding five years, according to a prominent tech staffing agency.
Events like Oklahoma Women in Tech (OKWIT)'s recent STEM retreat, hosted at BOK Financial's Tulsa technology center, are helping to build on that momentum. STEM is shorthand for those who work in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.
About 75 female students ages 14-18 from across the state participated in the event.
"This was a chance for students to meet several women in STEM in their community, and to see firsthand how many opportunities are available to them when it comes to pursuing a technical career or STEM degree in Oklahoma," said Cindy Silva, president of Oklahoma Women in Tech.
"We know that women are historically underrepresented in the technology field," said Libby Ediger, CEO of Holberton Tulsa, who delivered the keynote address for the event.
"Our goal with this event was to raise awareness about the opportunities in tech for women and to train the students on practical skills that can help them be successful in the workforce," said Ediger, adding that while women have come a long way in the industry, there's still work to be done.
In a panel discussion, BOK Financial employees took the hot seat and answered student questions about STEM careers.
"I love that my job is never the same. I never know what I'm walking into on a given day," said Grace Havrilka, cyber threat analyst at BOK Financial. "Technology is constantly changing so it's an invitation to always be learning and growing."
Project Manager Sarah Stephenson told the students, "What made a big difference for me in choosing a career in technology was realizing the people impact that tech can have—like through change management. When we can design with the person in mind, that's the dream because I really care about making people's lives better."
The gender gap can be discouraging, Havrilka said.
"Encouraging girls from a young age to pursue interests in STEM and stick with them can be one of the best ways to overcome this imbalance."
Abrego said she was never discouraged from working in tech, but hardly encouraged, either.
"It was like the path existed but was hidden or not quite as obvious of a possibility for girls as it was for boys. And I think events like this are important because it shines a light on that path. It brings awareness to not only girls who are trying to figure out what type of career they want, but to the rest of the world that, yes, girls can work in tech, too."
Lizzy Bales, enterprise architecture senior director for BOKF added, "Events like this help young women network and hear the stories of other women in technology with the hope of encouraging them to pursue a professional career in a STEM field."
"These events are so important because they find a community of other girls interested in careers in STEM, show examples of women who have built successful careers in STEM, create potential mentorship opportunities, and also offer fantastic exposure to careers in STEM that may have gone undiscovered otherwise," Havrilka continued.
"Women-focused STEM events offer a chance to step into a world that needs more girls getting involved and staying involved."
Top photo: A BOK Financial panel at the OKWIT event included (L to R) Sarah Stephenson, project manager; Lizzy Bales, senior director enterprise architecture; Viviana Abrego, network engineer; and Grace Havrilka, cyber threat analyst.