Education, Professional Support, and Self Advocacy: Tools for a Successful and Equitable Tech Career in Massachusetts

December 7, 2017

Bridget Dunn

Careers in computer science and technology provide valuable opportunities for Massachusetts workers. These jobs offer good pay, pathways for career growth, and opportunities for creative problem-solving, leadership, and cross-functional teamwork. However the landscape is still male-dominated, which often makes getting into – and succeeding in – the tech field challenging for women. Fortunately, Massachusetts women have access to a variety of education options and professional support networks to provide a framework for a career in technology.

For women considering pursuing opportunities in computer science or technology, education can provide the skills and tools necessary to enter the industry and succeed within it.

The Massachusetts Department of Education recently revised the Digital Literacy and Computer Science Framework, providing K-12 students with a baseline set of tools and computer competencies to engage with technology in the 21st century.

On college campuses across the state, students engage with computer science education in and out of the classroom. At Wellesley College, a women’s college in Wellesley, MA, computer science students recently hosted the fifth WHACK (Wellesley Hacks) event. Over three hundred students from over 50 colleges gathered to solve tech problems, listen to talks, and share ideas with one another. WECode (Women Engineers Code) is a student-run Women in Computer Science conference held annually at Harvard University. Similar to WHACK, this conference brings students together to share tech information and resources while expanding their professional networks. Many of these events have gender-inclusive audiences, and it is exciting to see women-led groups taking the reins on planning these innovative and empowering events.

As an alternate or supplement to college, women interested in computer science, coding, and technology can pursue lifelong learning in a variety of ways. Coding boot camps in Boston provide an avenue for women to make career transitions into tech by submerging themselves in coding education for a relatively short period of time and graduate ready for their first developer job. Organizations like Girl Develop It Boston provide one-day and multi-week classes for adult beginner-to-intermediate coders to expand their skillset, publish real projects, and immerse themselves in continuing coding education. Resilient Coders, a coding non-profit, provides coding education to adult students from traditionally underserved populations. By offering students a stipend while in the program and an apprenticeship after graduation, Resilient Coders makes it possible for these students to navigate the career transition and ready themselves for stable, well-paying jobs with tech companies.

But while there is significant opportunity in the fields of computer science and technology, the pay gap persists for women and minorities. According to the Wage Gap Calculator on EqualPayMA.com, a 25-year-old white woman just starting out in “Computer and Mathematical Occupations” can expect an average wage gap of $7 per hour compared to her male counterparts. This gap increases to $9 per hour for Asian women, $17 per hour for Native American women, $18 per hour for African American women, and $23 per hour for Hispanic women. Additionally, race often intersects with other identities in compounding the wage gap. LGBTQ+ women, disabled women, and immigrant women of all races will experience additional, compounding pay discrimination. Without the tools to educate themselves, navigate the industry, and negotiate for better pay, women will experience lifelong pay deficits that begin in the form of a lower starting salary.

For women of all identities within the tech sector, professional networking and education organizations can serve as a valuable source of advice, connections, and support – particularly with regard to navigating and combating the pay gap. Whether in-person or online, these groups provide an outlet for women working in technology to ask questions, practice negotiations, prepare for interviews, or share information about companies, roles, and opportunities.   

One national online group, Tech Ladies®, recently featured in the New York Times has an email newsletter with current articles, job postings curated for its members, and an invitation-only Facebook community. In the online forum, members post using hashtags like #ASK to solicit advice, #YEPIMADETHAT to share a recent accomplishment, #RESOURCE to share news articles, tools and resources, and #DISCUSS to invite conversation around a particular topic. Discussions frequently touch on navigating job offers, negotiating pay, seeking advancement, or other topics related to creating equitable workplaces. Ladies Get Paid, an online community with an active Slack Channel and frequent webinars and in-person events, provides opportunities for networking and knowledge-sharing around salary negotiation, navigating job offers, and other pay issues. These online forums provide an easy, low-commitment way for women to meet and interact with peers from all careers and backgrounds and seek out professional support and advice.

In Massachusetts, the tech community also benefits from a number of in-person meetups and organizations devoted to supporting the careers and success of women in tech. She Geeks Out supports diverse and inclusive companies, in part through networking, education, and training events for individuals and organizations. State Treasurer and Receiver General Deborah B. Goldberg offers free financial education and salary negotiation workshops for women through the Treasury’s Office of Economic Empowerment. The workshops are part of the Women’s Economic Empowerment Series, an initiative dedicated to teaching women about wage negotiation, money management, retirement, and investment strategies.

A career in STEM can provide you with many personal benefits in terms of career growth, creative problem-solving opportunities, continuous learning, and the potential for collaborative teamwork. And we are in a great place for that - Massachusetts is home to a range of organizations doing innovative work in the fields of software development, information technology, robotics, engineering, research, and higher education. While it remains unduly difficult for women and people of color to enter the tech industry, there exists an established community of allies ready to help. Through access to education, training on salary research and the pay gap, tools like the Wage Gap Calculator, negotiation practice, and peer support through online and in-person professional groups, women and people of color can form networks and successfully navigate the industry.

Bridget Dunn is a product management professional working at Duck Creek Technologies to deliver engaging & innovative digital solutions for insurance agents. Previously, she worked at Merchant Customer Exchange (MCX) building a mobile payments and loyalty platform, and as a product management consultant. She graduated from Wellesley College. She can be reached via her personal website GitItDunn.com or on twitter @bridget_dunn.