Unless you’re a high school math teacher, it may have escaped your notice that this coming Saturday is a very special day. Pi is the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter, and is widely used in math equations. Every March 14, math enthusiasts celebrate Pi Day (3.14), when the date matches the first three digits of Pi. This year, it’s extra exciting–2015 continues the Pi sequence (3.1415).
While it’s a fun time to think about the impact of math on our daily lives (and maybe snag a piece of pie), this year, I’m also thinking about the impact math has had on my own life as a woman in the technology industry. I loved solving geometry problems early on in my high school career, so I was continually encouraged to take harder math and science classes. Some teachers challenged me with more difficult problems and some teachers allowed me to lead math tutoring sessions. I didn’t know then how fortunate I was. The confidence I built in math allowed me to pursue my degree in engineering and ultimately a very rewarding career in technology.
Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case for everyone. A 2011 report from the United States Department of Commerce found “although women fill close to half of all jobs in the U.S. economy, they hold less than 25 percent of STEM jobs.” As the report points out, this is particularly alarming because that number has remained stagnant despite the fact that college-educated women have increased their share of the overall workforce.
There’s been a lot of conversation over the last couple years regarding the lack of diversity in tech, particularly women in engineering roles. We need to get in on the ground floor and encourage young girls to pursue their interests in STEM. There are many great organizations, such as Black Girls Code, that are helping young women pursue their technological passions. Parents can do their part by encouraging their daughters to take math and science, join robotics clubs, and attend science camps (and avoid language like “I’m bad at math”–setting a good example is important). Schools can hire more women math and science teachers as role models. Teachers can give their female students positive reinforcement on their math and science skills. There is no question that secondary and higher educational institutions can also do more to attract and encourage women to study engineering and pursue careers in technology. At the same time, tech companies need to prioritize hiring women for those jobs and work harder to create an environment that is supportive and welcoming to all.
When it comes to the lack of women in tech, we need to play a short game–and a long one. Increasing the number of girls in STEM now will pay off in the decades to come. Tech companies will be better for the diversity, there will be more available engineers, and women will have more access to high-paying jobs. So, there you go–you can have your pie and eat it too.
—By Claire Hough, Udemy VP of Engineering