Inspiring Girls to Study Technology
If Tracey Lanham has it her way, there will be an equal number of men and women studying information technology by 2020. According to the National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT), computer science has the lowest representation of girls and women out of all areas of technology. With computing and information technology being among the fastest growing industries, there are significant opportunities available for men and women alike.
“It’s just now that it’s getting to the point where businesses are realizing and understanding what they’re missing because they don’t have diversity at the drawing table when they’re developing technologies, and they’re really missing a huge market to couple a woman’s way of thinking with a man’s,” Lanham explained.
So why are there more men than women studying and working in the field of computer science and information technology?
“What seems to be the issue is that girls don’t have enough confidence in themselves with technology,” says Lanham. “You have boys, who when they’re not in school, are using technology by playing video games, are on the computer, and are pulling things apart and putting them back together. Girls aren’t encouraged to use technology in that sense.”
Even for Lanham, computer information technology was never a field she considered. Initially, she was working toward an accounting degree, but when she went to register for classes after transferring to Hodges University, she scored very highly on her math entrance exam, and her advisor encouraged her to consider studying computer information technology. At the time, she was the only woman in the master’s in computer information technology program.
“It was a very haphazard stroke of chance that got me into the field, but it was the field itself that kept me there,” Lanham says.
Since earning her master’s degree, Lanham has worked in a number of IT capacities from network engineering and website development, to setting up an ecommerce store. She’s now back at Hodge’s University as a full-time faculty member teaching computer and information technology courses and is on track to assume a roll as program chair next year for the Fisher School of Technology.
“My Ph.D. from NCU will enable me to become a program chair. The research skills I’ve learned at NCU have helped me so much in areas like researching different programs for my school and applying for different grants.”
It was Lanham’s research and grant writing skills that landed her funding for a program to teach middle school girls programming. She used the funding to create and supervise a programming camp AspireIT Program: Making a Difference — Girls, Technology, and Social Change.
“Women are huge consumers of technology, but we’re not huge developers of it.”
“We had 17 girls from 14 different middle schools, and they spent 10 consecutive Saturdays learning how to create phone apps and Xbox games,” she explains. “By the end of the camp, each girl had created either an Android phone app or Xbox game. It was one of the most amazing experiences in my life!”
Along with teaching at Hodges University, Lanham works as the regional coordinator for the Aspirations in Computing Award for the Southwest Florida region where she speaks to girls in local high schools about the importance of learning technology. The Aspirations in Computer Award is a national award from NCWIT with the purpose of rewarding girls that excel in technology and leadership within their communities.
Lanham says there’s not necessarily a specific personality profile that would lend well to a career in the computer and information technology field, but there are some shared commonalities. For example, someone who is good in math would likely be good at computer programming and jobs that are more hands-on. Conversely, someone who is good with people and likes to integrate technology with management functions could be well suited for a career in information systems management.
“There’s such a gap right now in gender equality in this field,” she asserts. “Encourage every girl you know to go out there and get that knowledge. There’s so much kids can learn online for free.”
Some of the resources Lanham recommends are Code.org, NWCIT, and the Anita Borg Institute.
“Regardless of the career area someone wants to go in, technology will be integrated into it in some way,” Lanham says. “The better handle you have on technology, the better you’re going to excel at your career.”