Why Not Tech? Encouraging Women of Color to Pursue STEM Careers

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It’s no secret that minorities and women — particularly women of color — are underrepresented in STEM careers. In Silicon Valley, the hiring landscape is even more challenging than elsewhere in the industry. Fortunately, diversity professionals at companies like Google, Apple, Facebook and Twitter have received the memo: They now understand that hiring more women of color is not only a moral imperative, but good business as well, and they’re taking steps to do so. 

Silicon Valley employers aren’t the only ones concerned about bringing more women of color into the technology industry. From President Obama’s Race to the Top competition to the National Center for Women & Information Technology’s Aspirations in Computer Program to Girls who Code’s free coding clubs, there are so many avenues for women interested in pursuing STEM careers. And with good reason: Careers in STEM are intellectually stimulating, challenging and relatively lucrative. In the words of the Obama Administration, “Women in STEM jobs earn 33 percent more than those in non-STEM occupations and experience a smaller wage gap relative to men. And STEM careers offer women the opportunity to engage in some of the most exciting realms of discovery and technological innovation.”

One organization dedicated to changing the status quo is Black Girls CODE. Founded by black engineer, Kimberly Bryant, this nonprofit offers classes and afterschool programs for girls of color in underprivileged communities. According to the organization’s website, “Black Girls CODE's ultimate goal is to provide African-American youth with the skills to occupy some of the 1.4 million computing job openings expected to be available in the U.S. by 2020, and to train 1 million girls by 2040.”

Aerotek is working to create more opportunities for women of color through its previous corporate board membership in both the Association for Women in Science (AWIS) and the Society for Women Engineers (SWE). Aerotek’s preferred partners network supports women-owned businesses and through its historic collaboration with the Women in Leadership Linkage Institute.

Aerotek’s STEM Women of Color Technology Rising Star Award winner, Jenn Mendoza, is proving that it is possible for women of color to excel in Silicon Valley.

“I consider myself to be part of Silicon Valley’s second generation,” says Mendoza, a program manager at a major technology company. “My father, an immigrant to the United States, worked for 25 hard years as a hard drive assembly technician for the top global digital content storage company. My aspirations to do more for my father, and my family, are very important to me.” 

Mendoza, who came to Silicon Valley with a background in non-profit education, was highly motivated and exceedingly intentional when it came to setting short and long-term goals for her new career. While she admits that being a woman of color in the technology sector hasn’t always been easy, she believes her strong technical, interpersonal and soft skills have contributed to her success in the technology field and her ability to break through cultural barriers. 

When the going gets tough, Mendoza remembers the words of first lady, Michelle Obama. “You should never view your challenges as a disadvantage.” Mendoza says she heard Obama’s quote at “a pivotal time in her career” and it helped her to keep striving. 

“In this industry, everything is male-dominated, and many will not respect you until they see the power of your mind,” she tells other women considering careers in technology. “Actively engaging in discussion with your peers is an important way of showing off your most powerful tool: Your mind and your intelligence. Exercise it, refine it and NEVER stop learning.”

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