For the past few years, the campaign to get more women into STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) jobs has grown rapidly. In the UK alone, females account for just under 20 percent of all engineering and computer science students at universities in the UK. Recent campaigns are helping change this, from last week’s #girlswithtoys Twitter takeover to increased media coverage of what it’s like to be a female working in technology – but there is still a long way to go in changing attitudes.
Melissa Di Donato, a VP at software maker Salesforce, is helping to spearhead this campaign for equality. Aside from her main role at the company helping startups, developers and entrepreneurs move on to cloud computing with Salesforce, Melissa is also now the chair of an initiative called the 30% Club.
“I was appointed about three weeks ago to be the leader of the 30% Club. It was founded in 2010, and is a campaign focused on trying to get 30 percent women on FTSE 100 companies in the UK. We’re now in 10 countries, from the US across Asia, we’re now in Portugal and Chile, Italy and France, so it’s growing very rapidly,” Melissa told TechWeekEurope at Salesforce’s London summit this week.
Melissa said that when she started working with the organisation, there were no members who were technology firms. “Not one member company was a technology company. I was like ‘Oh gosh, something’s wrong in this picture here’. Where were the technology companies?”
This is when Melissa started her mission to recruit technology companies onto the program. So far, firms such as Citrix, Misys, TechUK and VMware have signed up, and there’s more to follow.
“I’m recruiting member companies on board and creating a steering committee as well,” said Melissa. “Sage wants to help out. A lot of people from Microsoft want to help out, too. It’s all about looking at women and how to get them to become executive board members and stay in companies.”
But getting women to the top is only half the problem in this traditionally male-dominated industry. What about the pipeline workforce? What about the engineers, coders, developers?
Melissa is also helping to target this imbalance of the everyday workforce andthe younger generation in technology. This summer, a part Salesforce-funded incubator project in partnership with WISE will see 45 girls aged 11 to 22 live in a London house over six weeks, where they will be given technology and business mentoring and advice.
"The Salesforce foundation has funded a program called the Stemettes Outbox Incubator which is basically going to be 45 girls in one house over six weeks. I’m tutoring one of them, she has these amazing ideas!” said Melissa.
“So we’re putting them all into this house and we are teaching them, giving them workshops and assistance and direction and taking their business ideas that really are focused on science and technology, and turning them into companies, and then we’re going to pitch at the end of the six weeks in a kind of Dragon’s Den style format to venture capitalists who are going to fund their business and help them grow. That’s really helping the community of girls grow into STEM, helping them get into technology and hopefully stay.
“My view is that for women in technology, we have low pipeline, not enough girls. In the UK alone, one out of every three girls gets made fun of if they study a STEM subject. I’ve got a little girl who is 15 months old and that bothered me. So now it’s about getting girls into technology at a young age,” said Melissa.
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