Technology

There aren’t enough women in tech. Can Clinton or Trump change that?

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Everyone knows that the economy is a central pillar of U.S. presidential elections. Candidates spend weeks battling it out over their plans and strategies for improving the American economy.

This election cycle has been particularly fierce, but how are the issues of technology, innovation and gender parity fitting into the conversation?

{mosads}A robust tech sector and increased innovation will be crucial to the future strength of the American economy. By bringing gender parity into the equation, we have the potential to significantly boost the tech sector and the American economy overall.

Technology, particularly computer science and information technology (IT), shapes the largest part of the U.S. economy: the service sector, which accounts for 80 percent of our economic output. Tech industry consultants anticipate that the tech industry “is in for a sea change, leading to a potential tripling of demand for tech-related goods and services over the next decade.”

But by failing to utilize half the population, the U.S. is not living up to its full technological potential.

As of 2015, 75 percent of all computing-related occupations were held by men, with only 25 percent were held by women. Black and Latino women held only 3 percent and 1 percent of professional computing jobs, respectively, and only 17 percent of all Fortune 500 chief information officer positions were held by women.

This homogeneity is costing us potential ingenuity and innovation, as diversity has been found to significantly increase progress in these areas. A 2011 study conducted by the University of Maryland and Columbia University found that, among innovation-oriented companies, “female representation in top management … enriches the behaviors exhibited by managers throughout the firm, and motivates women in middle management,” leading to better firm performance overall.

Increased gender parity doesn’t just bestow benefits when exercised in the highest echelons. A report by the National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT) found that businesses experience greater sales revenue, more customers, greater market share and greater relative profits when women and other underrepresented groups occupy meaningful and innovative roles.

Gender parity in tech also positively affects the quality of the software and hardware being produced, leading to more widely applicable technologies. Tech patents with the highest rates of citation are those produced by mixed-gender teams. Such patents are cited 30 percent to 40 percent more often than patents invented by female-only or male-only teams. Still, the tech world continues to lack the kind of diversity that yields these benefits, as women find it exceedingly difficult to break-into and excel within it.

The issue of diversity and gender parity in computer science and IT has begun to gain some serious traction in recent months, capturing the interest of heavy-hitters like Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and philanthropist Melinda Gates.

In June 2016, Clinton released her tech agenda, a plan that clearly emphasizes inclusion and diversity in the tech workforce as a method of building a strong tech industry, and ultimately, a strong economy. Her agenda aims to invest in computer science and science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education; provide every student in America the chance to learn computer science; engage the private sector and nonprofits to train more computer science teachers; create a $25 billion fund to support colleges that serve minority students; and increase access to capital for growth-oriented small businesses and startups, with a focus on minority, women and young entrepreneurs.

As her agenda states:

Hillary will put a special emphasis on minority and women advancement in the fields of research, technology, and engineering. Clinton is dedicated to breaking barriers to full and equal participation by all groups in the 21st century economy, particularly in cutting-edge sectors . … [D]iversifying the tech workforce can generate an additional $500 billion in new value for the technology industry, boosting GDP [gross domestic product] by up to 1.6%.

Clinton has reiterated her plans to build a more inclusive and innovative tech sector on the campaign trail, as well.

Clinton’s detailed and comprehensive policy is in stark contrast to the Republican nominee’s views on tech. Donald Trump’s shortsighted economic plan centers around bringing back the manufacturing jobs of the past, rather than creating the jobs of the future. There are thousands of vacancies in the tech sector, and yet his platform makes no provisions for STEM or computer science education initiatives that would prepare Americans to fill these vacancies.

Outside of the platform, he has expressed doubt about the social and economic value of the tech sector in general. Although, as a businessman who lost nearly $1 billion dollars in a single year, it is possible he simply can’t comprehend what it means to be “innovative” and “profitable.”

Furthermore, based on his numerous comments, both past and present, he thinks of women as nothing more than objects and does not value their intellect or ability to be contributing members of society. He seems to discount the potential of over half the workforce.

How will that benefit our economy in the long-run if we aren’t even half as strong as we could be?

Increasingly, the most prescient thought-leaders and policymakers are recognizing the centrality of tech, computer science and IT in building the economy of tomorrow. It is clear that in the presidential race, Hillary Clinton clearly puts forth the stronger plan in this regard while taking into account the importance of gender parity.

To keep America on the leading edge in the world economy, while simultaneously creating stable and well-paying jobs at home, we need to educate and support not just men, but women and other underrepresented groups in technological occupations as well.

Stern is founder and chair of The Stern Group and former chairwoman of the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC). She wrote the definitive book on congressional-executive foreign policy-making, “Water’s Edge: Domestic Politics and the Making of American Foreign Policy.”


The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.

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