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How to solve for the lack of women in technology

Why is the fastest-growing industry in the U.S. — which is predicted to provide more job opportunities than all other professional sectors — still failing to attract and retain women?

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg speaks onstage during a panel at The Town Hall during 2016 Advertising Week New York.
Slaven Vlasic / Getty

It has been said that women hold up half the sky — and they account for more than half of the users of technology products and websites. However, in 2015 according to the National Center for Information & Technology, a mere 25 percent of the computing workforce were women.

According to Girls Who Code, by 2020, there will be 1.4 million jobs available in computing-related fields. U.S. graduates are on track to fill 29 percent of those jobs, with women filling just 3 percent.

Whenever I see these stats, I ask myself, why are women and girls dropping out, when there is so much opportunity ahead of us? Why is the fastest-growing industry in the U.S. — which is predicted to provide more job opportunities than all other professional sectors — still failing to attract and retain women?

The first problem points to a startling figure for the women who pursue careers in tech but drop out before reaching senior levels. In 2008, Harvard Business Review released a study that found that as many as 50 percent of women working in science, engineering and technology will, over time, drop out of the workforce. The study cited that women were dropping out due to “hostile" male culture, a sense of isolation and lack of a clear career path.

Female entrepreneurs in the tech space also face hard challenges raising money. A study conducted by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research shows that as of 2010, women represented just 7 percent of founders in the top companies receiving venture-capital investments. Project Diane found that black women, the fastest-growing group of entrepreneurs in the country, received only .2 percent of all venture funding in the past five years.

Armed with this information, what can we do differently to raise awareness and find solutions for a problem that is not being solved? How about we start here:

Diversity equals innovation. Innovation, technology and science have always been central to how we develop and manufacture products at L’Oréal — a company whose core customers are women. We created the L’Oréal USA Women in Digital program to support and promote female entrepreneurship in technology. The program recognizes emerging talent and created a pipeline of digital partners for our brands, while generating real business opportunities for female founders. We know that being a customer to the entrepreneurs we work with will serve as a great endorsement and help them to be taken seriously by investors and the market.

Encouragement at every stage of a woman's career is key. We all have bad days and doubt ourselves. I have been the only woman in a room full of men who were quick to dismiss me on multiple occasions throughout my career — but it is through my own community of supportive men and women mentors who helped me get to where I am today. I survived losing a job at a startup during the Internet 1.0 years because I had mentors who encouraged me to stay on my career path. It would have been easy for me to drop out — as many women do — but I remember my early boss telling me I was her go-to person on learning about new media, and stayed on course blogging and advising until the right job came along.

I have also been lucky to have come in contact with some bad-ass women in technology who have also joined as Women in Digital Advisory Board members, including Beth Comstock, vice chair of General Electric; Carolyn Everson, vice president, Global Marketing Solutions, Facebook; and Arianna Huffington, founder of the Huffington Post and current founder and CEO of Thrive Global, to name a few. These women have created an ecosystem for innovation. They are powerful motivators who offer guidance and support, and continue to inspire women as they progress in their careers. I am a firm believer that providing active participation from role models and mentors creates meaningful change within our industry. As a female entrepreneur, the best advice I ever received was to help support other women.

Corporate involvement is critical. Companies need to take similar action to empower innovators to take risks on women-led startups. And doing this as a one-off campaign to support women is not enough. Externally, we work with different investors, startups and partners to see how we can advance not just our own products but also the broader beauty industry. We need to all collectively create opportunities and channels for women to be supported. We have come a long way, but we can all collectively do better.

Inspire the next generation. The most rewarding part of working with my peers to drive change is being able to meet girls and young women who against all odds are staying on their path. Through Girls Who Code, the I.Am.Angel Foundation, the Technovation Challenge, Black Girls Code and many other amazing organizations, I have met girls who not only come to me for advice on the next phase of their journeys, but continue to inspire me and motivate me to continue in my own path as a female entrepreneur. We want all of our girls and women to be economically viable in years to come.

Rachel Weiss is the VP of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at L'Oréal USA, and chair of the five-year-old Women in Digital program, which she created to support and promote female entrepreneurship in technology. Winners of the program have the opportunity to pilot their technology with a L'Oréal USA brand, providing a real business opportunity for the advancement of women-led startups. Reach her @nycbabylon.

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