Scott Greenlay grew up surrounded by technology in the seventies. He frequently accompanied his mother to the office on evenings or weekends at the Minnesota University where she worked in the Information Services (now Information Technology) department.
He remembers the physical elements – the big mainframe computers and flashing lights. They used a technology called Teletype – a mechanical keyboard that talked to the computers. He also remembers a positive work environment where people respected his mother and each other.
In fourth grade, one of his teachers at school introduced him to computers and coding and Scott instantly latched on. He continued to write code throughout high school and started his first tech start-up, doing research and development for Intel-based platforms in his second year of University. He now works as the National Director of MNP’s Technology Consulting practice.
The experience of having a parental role model and an early exposure to technology made a career in the field seem like the natural choice.
“What I really found interesting about it was that it had a very instantaneous feel,” he says. “It’s kind of like an electronic form of Lego, where you build programs instead of things.”
However, his mother’s role as a woman in tech also made him aware of the huge gender disparity in the field. She was involved in promoting affirmative action – a policy that allows universities to consider race, ethnicity and gender when admitting students.
“I grew up assuming it would be fixed by now,” Scott says.
When Scott was in university, there were two women in his computer science class. His daughter, a Computer Engineering student at the University of Victoria, tells him the situation is pretty much the same today.
Scott thinks that systemic barriers have prevented gender-neutrality in STEM. At a previous job, Scott remembers working with a female developer who went on maternity leave. Eight weeks into her leave, she told him she was bored and wanted to come back to work. She requested if she could work from home.
“I said sure, no problem because with technology, you can work anywhere,” Scott says.
However, the Human Resources department refused to approve it stating they didn’t have a work-from-home policy.
Barriers like this, where women are denied re-entering opportunities and workplace accommodations, are just some of the reasons why many women leave tech.
Besides creating better re-entering opportunities, we also need to increase the number of women adopting STEM in education. Scott thinks that we need to start cultivating interest in the field as early as elementary school.
We also need to shift the focus from grades and course pre-requisites to interest and aptitude. Scott’s younger daughter didn’t get interested in technology till her last year in high-school and didn’t take all the pre-requisites. Scott himself doesn’t remember using much of what he learnt in math class.
“Maybe we’re too focused on ‘gee, if you haven’t taken calculus, you’re not gonna be a great computer programmer’,” he says.
His daughter has also mentioned that the way they teach technology right now is very ‘guy-focused.’ It uses references like gaming which tend to interest and motivate the guys in her class more than her.
Scott thinks if we have more women graduating in technology and creating opportunities for them to thrive, the issue of skill shortage in the industry will improve. For example, if we have enough women working in entry-level positions in tech, we will gradually have enough women in leadership roles.
Scott has also seen some positive changes in the industry.
“One of the changes is that we’ve acknowledged that we have a problem,” Scott says.
He has also noticed that less men think of the industry as ‘boys club.’ He thinks the challenge now is to increase the number of women employed in the field and keep them.
Scott says that government, education, and industry need to work together to address gender disparity.
“If one of those items are weak, they all suffer,” he says.
Instead of criticizing each other for the problem, the solution lies in creating opportunities for women in technology together.