Image courtesy Dawn Yankeelov

Why is it important for women to be involved in tech innovation and what is Louisville doing to make that happen?

For one, IT is where the jobs will be. (According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of computer and IT occupations is projected to grow 13 percent from 2016 to 2026.)

We spoke to Dawn Yankeelov, President and Founder, Aspectx and Executive director of Technology Association of Louisville Kentucky (TALK) about the state of women in tech.

Can you talk about the value women bring to the field of IT itself?

Yankeelov: With today’s DEI [diversity, equity, and inclusion] conversations, we have begun to see the role of women in tech careers more carefully examined and discussed. For those of us who work in tech, the goal continues to be to see women valued in the workforce and that should show as salary gaps close.

The reasoning echoes back to what we already know – that diverse environments focus creativity, innovation and even adventure in approaches to tech transformation. A 2020 report from McKinsey found that diverse companies are more engaged, perform better and retain workers better than companies that do not focus on diversity and inclusion.

What do programs like TechGirlz do in order to encourage girls in the IT space?

Yankeelov: In 2021, women now comprise not more than 37% of the workforce in science, technology, engineering and mathematics occupations. TechGirlz founder Tracey Welson-Rossman recognizes the value of this but believes more can be done to get us to number one!

TALK works directly with TechGirlz to improve middle school age skilling and resources to explore tech roles. We have completed 16 virtual sessions, touching more than 400 girls during the pandemic virtually and involved key under-served groups in Louisville in our work, such as the Louisville Central Community Center. See this recent article about our work.

What changes have you seen locally in the landscape of women working in tech?

Yankeelov: Women make up 47% of all employed adults in the U.S., but as of 2015, they held only 25% of computing roles, according to data from the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT). In 2014, Louisville ranked fourth among 16 peer cities in the number of women employed in STEM related fields, according to data provided by the Greater Louisville Project. We have seen incremental progress, but other Midwest cities are stronger in education women in STEM fields.

According to SmartAsset’s report, nearly 27% of tech jobs in Louisville are filled by women.

In cybersecurity, we are seeing more women shift careers and choose this is a focus area mid-career, as is evidenced in our work with the Cyber Readiness Institute. TALK is currently offering a six-part series in partnership with the Cyber Readiness Institute. Totally free to all to join any session. I now serve on the international small business advisory board for the Cyber Readiness Institute.

In Kentucky, statistics from Code.org indicate for the whole state, there were only 581 total graduates in computer science in 2018 and only 45% of all public high schools teach a foundational course.

For all high school students, only 1,778 exams were taken in AP Computer Science by high school students in Kentucky in 2020 (521 took AP CS A and 1,257 took AP CSP). Only 30% were taken by female students (26% for AP CS A and 32% for AP CSP).

TALK was instrumental in getting a cyber engineering pathway via Cyber.org available to school districts for all high school students at the state level, back in 2017. At this point approximately 1,000 HS students are enrolled in cyber-specific coursework throughout the state of KY. TALK is now working with both TeachCyber.org and Cyber.org (formerly NICERC) to press for more K-12 cyber education.

To hear more of what Dawn has to say, you can listen to this podcast she did with Connected Nation for Women’s History month.