In 2010, when I joined Amazon Web services to start our business in the global public sector, relatively few people in the world knew what cloud computing was. I could never have predicted what the next decade would bring. Today, just 10 years later, millions of people are using cloud computing to deliver services, respond to disasters, expand access to education, and more. Secure computing is now available on demand to virtually anyone at a cost that allows for rapid experimentation.
The challenge of fully representing – not to mention empowering – women in tech has taken much longer. Based on 2019 data from National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT), although 57% of all employed adults in the United States are women, they only occupied 26% of IT roles.
The tech industry clearly has a lot more work to do to attract women to careers in STEM – science, technology, engineering and math -. It also needs to do a better job of helping them be successful once they get there. At AWS, we believe the future of technology must include every color, gender, creed, origin, and community. We have been determined to work towards creating a business that reflects the diversity of its customers. Some of the ways we do this include recruiting into women’s colleges and organizations, maintaining women-focused affinity groups with global chapters to help build a sense of community belonging and provide benefits such as: as parental leave, mentoring and sponsorship programs.
It is also a personal passion. I want to create avenues for women leaders to develop in part because of the unfolding of my own career. I don’t come from a traditional technological background; I started out as a speech-language pathologist and discovered the potential of technology to improve healthcare and digitally transform an industry. I’ve had great mentors and sponsors along the way who saw things in me that I didn’t always see in myself.
Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned along the way as we at AWS work to build a pipeline of female tech talent.
Better connect education to jobs
The future of learning is career-oriented. People need to learn skills that are directly related to in-demand jobs in a “stackable” way that allows them to learn new skills and build sustainable careers at the same time.
Partnerships are essential to achieve this. They bring together a diversity of perspectives, capacities and resources to solve great challenges – challenges that partners could not solve alone. By working with the private sector, government leaders can work against the needs of employers to build new educational models that closely align curriculum with the skills that companies identify as the most critical.
For example, last year, AWS partnered with Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards, economic development agency GNO Inc., and Louisiana Community and Technical College System (LCTCS) to create new opportunities in the cloud. computing across the state. LCTCS campuses are very diverse: Blacks, Indigenous Peoples and People of Color (BIPOC) represent over 63% of the student body and women over 50%. As part of the collaboration, each of the 12 LCTCS campuses have created an Associate’s Degree in Applied Science in Cloud Computing, offering a skills-based curriculum that will best position students for high-paying and in-demand jobs.
We need more public-private partnerships like this one – between educators, the private sector and policy makers – that can accelerate the availability of opportunities for a hungry workforce. Such efforts can enable underrepresented people to gain cumulative credentials, give students greater ownership of their education, and encourage lifelong learning.
Create scalable structures
Change cannot be on the shoulders of one person and made with unique ideas. Senior leaders should transform their experiences and ideas into scalable programs and mechanisms.
At AWS, we’ve tried to lead by example. In 2015, we launched AWS Educate, a global initiative that gives students and educators access to our technology to accelerate cloud learning and help train a new IT workforce. In just five years, the program has grown from a collection of online courses to programs developed with established universities around the world. It is now used in more than 200 countries and territories.
How did we manage to scale AWS Educate so quickly? First, we have not tried to put together an entirely new educational program on our own, which would almost certainly be a long and arduous process that might not meet the different needs of academic institutions around the world. Rather, we have focused on helping these institutions adapt or modernize their existing certificate and diploma programs, or create new ones by integrating cloud concepts and learning experiences. This approach allowed establishments to act quickly, often setting up workforce development courses within weeks.
Second, we have looked beyond the traditional degree. We knew we had to offer modular offers for working professionals and people wishing to enter or re-enter the workforce through community or technical colleges. For example, we collaborated with Pearson develop the Business and Technology Education Council (BTEC) national higher qualifications at levels 4 and 5 in cloud computing. BTEC Higher Nationals are internationally recognized higher education degrees and are awarded at colleges and universities in 50 countries around the world.
In the end, we didn’t go alone. Teachers and businesses can work together to create academic and workforce programs, but the programs alone will not allow students to find large-scale jobs – paving the way for a career requires commitment, too. with employers, governments and economic development organizations.
Monitor the data
When I decide to solve a problem, I always start by asking: What does the data tell us? The answer, at least when it comes to the tech industry’s workforce: We still have a lot of work to do to engage women and other underrepresented communities. For the tech industry to match America’s diversity, our businesses would need a workforce 50% female, 18.5% Hispanic or Latin American, 13.4% black and 1.3% Native American. The Reality: The collective tech workforce is made up of 36% women, 7% black and 8% Latinx, according to the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
To start resolving this problem, monitor the data within your own organization. Numbers tell the story – as long as you ask the right questions. At AWS, I am fortunate to have great HR partners who help me understand the numbers within our team. We regularly check workforce data to make sure our people bring a variety of experiences, ideas and perspectives to the table. We follow the representation of women and under-represented ethnicities because we know that diversity helps us build innovative teams obsessed with the needs of our clients. We have made progress year over year, but we still have work to do to achieve better representation in our various activities.
Support mentoring and sponsorship
As a leader who has benefited so much from mentors and sponsors throughout my career, I am committed to following this example – and I owe it to everyone around me to encourage this across our business. If you are a female leader, be sure to pull other women and extend that ladder. Provide mentees with strong sponsorship, strong feedback, and challenging roles and responsibilities so they can demonstrate their ability to do more. Mentorship and sponsorship are both important. A mentor can help you see yourself clearly; a sponsor can support your career and help you get promoted.
It is essential that we continue to build a pipeline of strong women leaders, especially at this time. Women have been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus pandemic, and the percentage of women participating in the workforce fell below 55% in April 2020 for the first time in 34 years. At Amazon, we are committed to providing employees with as much flexibility as possible throughout this particularly difficult time, in addition to benefits such as personal time off, flexible and short-time options, child safeguarding care and adults, discounts for parents for tutoring and childcare. , and more. Clearly we need to be proactive in reaching out to our employees to make sure they have the support they need, and we need to leverage technology to create opportunities in this new era of remote working. To wait for them to ask is to wait too long.
Teresa Carlson is vice president of global public sector and industries at Amazon Web Services.
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