International Women’s Day 2023

By Laura Baldwin
March 8, 2023

Last year, my IWD post was loaded with facts and figures that told the story of women’s fight for equality in the workforce and explored what companies could do to help neutralize the disparities women face every day. And I stand by what I wrote. IWD is absolutely a reason to push employers to hire and pay women at the same rates as men. But this year, I want to focus on how to staff both today’s and the future’s unfilled tech jobs—and why now is a significant opportunity for women to be part of the solution.

We’re currently experiencing a tumultuous economy. Persistent layoffs are the news of the day, and recession concerns are detailed in every financial report we read—particularly in the technology sector. But what doesn’t quite compute is the still-large number of unfilled technology and STEM-focused positions available in the US—and per a recent report, those jobs are expected to grow 15%, between 2021 and 2031. That’s nearly 800,000 additional STEM positions. Yet the unemployment rate in the US currently hovers at an all-time low of 3.5%. When I talk to my counterparts at other organizations, they’re all facing the same roadblock: too many open jobs and not enough qualified candidates. Demand outweighs supply.

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This, in my opinion, presents a tremendous opportunity. Companies are desperate for workers with STEM skills, and there’s a distinct lack of qualified candidates independent of gender. The STEM gap for women is improving, but this moment of high demand is an opportunity to close that gap more quickly. This is not to discount the well-documented struggles women face in the workforce, or the fact that there remains a great need for better policies throughout the corporate world. But in this time of outsized demand, businesses will be faced with a choice: either continue their current male-first policies or hire qualified women into these roles. I find it hard to believe that companies so desperate for trained employees would bypass a qualified candidate simply because they’re a woman. The need is too great; the risks to their businesses are too high.

If you’re a woman looking to land one of these roles, education is your most direct route to level the playing field. Kirthiga Reddy, cofounder of Virtualness and former head of Facebook India, knew it when she said, “I strongly believe that the first step and the most important tool towards women’s empowerment is education.” And in today’s job market, education, as Horace Mann famously argued, continues to be the great equalizer.

But for women it can be difficult to obtain, especially for those also part of historically marginalized communities where the imbalance of education is felt most. So perhaps considering today’s internet, it’s “access to education” that becomes the great equalizer.

Fortunately, there are many nonprofits working to tackle the disparities women face through a series of free programs that allow women—or anyone seeking to build skills—to get the education they need to earn the jobs of today. Like Women Who Code, Latinas in Tech, Blacks in Technology, and many more. And there are learning platforms and organizations that are truly trying to democratize the knowledge that can help fill the technology and STEM openings so many companies have today.

So on this IWD I want to encourage women, and everyone else, to take advantage of the opportunities available to grow your STEM skills.

At O’Reilly, we want to help be part of the solution. Which is why I’m pleased to announce the continuation of our highly successful diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice scholarship to increase learning opportunities for members of underrepresented communities in technology—and in tech that includes women. Through this scholarship program, 500 recipients will receive annual all-access memberships to the O’Reilly learning platform so they can learn the skills they need to break through the industry’s barriers. We’re partnering with NGOs including those noted above to advise their members to apply.

But it’s not just O’Reilly. Free courses are available through Google, edX, Microsoft, and even higher education institutions like Harvard and MIT. Take advantage of them. Learn. And help balance the wheel of the social machinery.

Organizations are eager to fill open tech roles, and the need for skilled people doesn’t seem to be fading even in the face of economic headwinds. I hope women everywhere take every opportunity to upskill and reskill and go after those open positions, and that companies reject their past biases and open their eyes to the candidates before them. I hope recent efforts made by states to increase pay transparency help ensure they’re paid fairly when they get them. And I hope a new generation of skilled STEM workers are able to finally level the playing field.

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