COVID-19 has demonstrated that technology is a bridge to sustaining a degree of normalcy in our lives. Institutions were able to switch almost overnight to online instruction and services only because of advances in technology, showing how critical having prepared professionals to address world problems is. According to the 2021 study “Women Chief Technology Officers in Community Colleges” by Monica D. Wiggins, the prevalence of technology today requires skilled technology workers — more than ever before — to secure, design, maintain and upgrade an ever-increasing number of advanced technological devices and programs.
The National Science Board (NSB) Task Force on the Skilled Technical Workforce reported that, by 2022, the number of skilled technical job openings in the United States is likely to exceed the availability of skilled technical workers by 3.4 million. Alarmingly, in the face of this projected gap, a shortage of women in STEM-related careers persists. Women make up more than 50% of the U.S. population but only account for 30% of the STEM workforce (CoSTEM, 2018). The inequality of women in the workforce not only presents a barrier to meeting the need for skilled workers but contributes to a lack of diversity, inclusion and varied perspectives.
Based on the 2021 study by Wiggins, there are several ways that higher education can prepare more skilled professionals and increase the number of women in technology. Key strategies include promoting from within, leadership support, strengthening the pipeline and systemic change.
Promoting from within
Informing girls and women about areas of technology and educational tracks will expose them to opportunities and potential career pathways. Senior community college women technology leaders can be ideal role models and mentors for aspiring women. Promoting students and practitioners from within an institution increases opportunities for women in both technology and leadership, moving the nation’s workforce closer to gender equality.
Since community colleges are the institutions that enroll the most students from underrepresented groups — including women — they offer a significant
potential to close skills gaps and to increase the number of students who earn these credentials. Senior women leaders in community colleges can help shape and change the perception of women in technology as determined by the 2021 study.
Supportive leaders can mentor female students and employees and provide opportunities for them to attend trainings, conferences, seminars and professional development workshops — in addition to helping them to improve writing and presentation skills. Leaders can also show women a first-hand account of what leadership entails by providing opportunities to shadow them.
Strengthening the pipeline
Community college leaders can work with outside organizations to mentor women aspiring to technology careers and for young girls, as early as those in K-12 grades. These partnerships can support the growth of young girls and women in technology and can be an important way to increase the number of women in technology and in technological leadership roles.
According to the Wiggins study, leaders should work with their human resources department to conduct compensation studies for IT positions to ensure equitable wages for women and other underrepresented groups. An analysis of compensation levels can result in appropriate classifications for IT job profiles and ensure competitive and equitable levels of salaries and benefits. Leaders can also seek changes in employment processes, requiring screening and diverse interview panels trained in avoiding non job-related preferences, to promote equality and limit internal bias.
Community colleges can be at the forefront of leaders who identify and support women and other underrepresented groups aspiring to careers in technology and leadership. These institutions provide opportunities for women to excel and attain formal credentials; they also provide suitable workplaces where women can advance in technology and leadership. Increasing the number of women in technology is important to meeting the urgent demand for STEM professionals, providing an increased number of skillful individuals who can maintain the nation’s global competitiveness and address the problems of today’s world. The diversity of perspectives presented by an increase of women in the STEM workforce presents a significant opportunity for employers.
Dr. Monica D. Wiggins is district associate vice-chancellor, administrative technology services at Wayne County Community College District in Michigan.
Dr. George R. Boggs is the president & CEO emeritus of the American Association of Community Colleges and superintendent/president emeritus at Palomar College in California. He is chair of the board of the Phi Theta Kappa International Honor Society and a professor of practice in the John E. Roueche Center for Community College Leadership at Kansas State University.
The Roueche Center Forum is co-edited by Drs. John E. Roueche and Margaretta B. Mathis of the John E. Roueche Center for Community College Leadership, Department of Educational Leadership, College of Education, Kansas State University.
This article originally appeared in the July 8, 2021 edition of Diverse. Read it here.