USG Women in Tech Summit Addresses Workforce Disparities

Bryan Lindenberger

Monday, August 27th, 2018

Women now hold 57 percent of professional occupations. They make up 56 percent of Advanced Placement (AP) test-takers as well. Yet women comprise only 26 percent of the computing workforce.

For African-American women, that number falls to 3 percent, and only 1 percent of the computing workforce are Hispanic women.

These data points – compiled by the National Center for Women and Information Technology – serve as an introduction to the topics discussed at the second annual University System of Georgia Women in Tech Summit (WITS).

Hosted by the University of West Georgia at the Campus Center Ballroom, this year’s summit garnered an audience of more than 160 people, including local professionals from Southwire, West Georgia Technical College, SMI and others interested in addressing workplace disparities.

Annemarie Eades, vice president of Information Technology Services and chief information officer at UWG, served as chair of the planning committee for the technology summit. She carefully and intentionally organized the summit to address gender and racial gaps in technological fields and disparities based on age, socio-economic status, disability, and other factors.

“We see the summit as both an educational and a networking opportunity,” Eades said. The summit addressed why equity gaps exist and what is being done to overcome them. “We explore a variety of success stories, and our keynote speaker has many to share.”

That keynote speaker, Dr. Andrea Bowens-Jones, is a polymer chemist and former Procter & Gamble research and development section head.

While with P&G, she discovered her passion for sharing science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects with young people and developed the Resident Scholar Program, a job-shadowing opportunity for minority youth interested in STEM careers. Today, Bowens-Jones serves as president and CEO of IDG Vision LLC, teaching clients it’s never too late to change their perspectives and follow new career options.

Speakers from UWG included Eades, Chief Diversity Officer Yves-Rose Porcena, ITS service desk manager Jan Cooke, and Dr. Ana Stanescu, an assistant professor in the Department of Computer Science in the College of Science and Mathematics.

“Only about 20 percent of computer science bachelor’s degrees are awarded to women nationwide,” Stanescu said. “The computer science department is seeking to improve the gender disparity in enrollment, retention and graduation, and to alleviate both perceived and real social barriers.”

Working toward these goals, Stanescu and her colleagues started CS-WoW (Computer Science – Women of West Georgia) in 2002, and earlier this year began a student chapter of ACM-W (Association for Computing Machinery – Women in Computing).

Stanescu also believes events such as the Women in Technology Summit play a significant role in raising awareness and motivating change.

“Thanks to Annemarie Eades and her team, the summit was a great success,” Stanescu said. “STEM industries need to fill an estimated 1.5 million positions in the next few years. It is essential for women and other underrepresented social segments to explore and take advantage of these opportunities.”

An important point raised at the summit is that these gaps not only affect students, jobseekers and employees. They affect companies.

Eades noted a traditional study of the issue tended to focus on qualitative business concerns, such as women being seen as more empathetic or better communicators. That emphasis is evolving.

“The data now shows that when you have a more diverse workforce, you perform better with increased revenues and increased market share,” Eades said. “That’s where the rubber meets the road for a lot of decision-makers.”

Additional speakers at the Women in Technology Summit included Sharon Florentine, senior writer for CIO Magazine; Patricia Ogden, executive director of information technology at Savannah State University; Tiffany Green-Abdullah, manager of learning community development at Georgia State University; Sheryl Bunton, vice president and chief information officer at Gulfstream; and others, including a pre-recorded TED Talk from Reshma Saujani.