Female tech leader suggests girls must be pushed into STEM

Entrepreneur, Monica Eaton-Cardone, believes education holds the key to eliminating tech’s gender bias

“My career path could have been very different,” Monica Eaton-Cardone laughs down the phone from Florida. “I really think that getting into technology started because as a girl growing up I was almost forced to be exposed to those types of things.

“Like most women, I really liked creative things but when I was very young, my parents moved constantly so I was always starting new schools. This meant I was usually late enrolling so would get stuck taking, what I thought at the time, the worst possible classes ever like wood shop, mechanics or lo and behold computer programming.”

These seemingly ‘uncool’ classes have stood Eaton-Cardone in good stead, however. Her CV now boasts that she is the co-founder of three companies, Chargebacks911, eConsumer Services and Global Risk Technologies, and holds C-Suite executive roles at two. However, her path to success has been littered with obstacles and she’s the first to admit she “failed [her] way to success”. A move she describes as an “expensive education”.

For Eaton-Cardone, education holds the key to eliminating gender bias in the world of work. When talking about her school days spent wood-shopping and creating computer programmes she’s keen to point out she was always the only girl in these classes. “I hated it,” she admits. “I hated it until I started to recognise that math, programming and even wood shop was actually creative and artistic; it gives you the ability to apply and construct something that's useful.

“I wrote these little programmes as a teenager before studying architecture and art.” It wasn’t until she embarked on a career in marketing however that she realised the full extent of her aptitude and interest for technology. “When I looked at technology it was no longer just a bunch of grungy kids in the garage shop. I started to think ‘this is something artistic and fun and creative and I can help people with it’. It's very similar to creating a building or studying interior design. You're learning about elements and how to fit them into an equation and create something that's useful and solves problems.”

One of the key initiatives currently working to address the gender inequality within technical roles is the drive to get more girls into STEM classes at school. As girls get older, the number of them studying science, technology, engineering and maths decreases dramatically and ultimately impacts on the number that end up pursuing a career in this field.

“Women aren’t getting into technology, not because they don't have an inherent aptitude, but because they're not exposed,” Eaton-Cardone explains. “I always use the analogy of a piano. There's very few kids that, without any exposure to a piano, could be sat down at age 15 and told to play and enjoy it and be able to do it, because they haven't developed the talent and they haven't been exposed to it.

“Some children might love it but most would never choose it.” This is how Eaton-Cardone feels about the subjects currently on offer in school, arguing that we need to take a closer look at our youth and the long-term implications of the subject choices they make at a young age. “It’s important to think of the bigger picture,” she continues. “If these were not the only classes that were available I wouldn't have taken them because they didn't feel cool to me and I wouldn't have seen that I have the talent or an aptitude, which is a real shame and I think we're missing those opportunities.”

This problem isn’t just prevalent in America, however. The statistics for the UK and Europe show stagnating statistics for the percentage of women choosing to study STEM subjects or embark on a technical career path. Eaton-Cardone is unapologetically critical of the current philosophy that allows us to create a more “liberal society” by allowing kids the right to choose their subjects.

“It’s actually created a barrier to their progression and as a mother of two daughters, of course I’d love to say ‘choose what you want to study right now’ but I’m aware that what they’ll pick at age 13 will not be the best choice for their career development.

“They’re not going to pick computer programming, they’re not going to choose to develop skills they may end up having tremendous talent and aptitude for. They're going to pick what they think is the cool thing at the time because that's how teenagers think.”

So, what can we do to make studying STEM subjects appeal to more young women? “As a society, we need to make technology for girls super cool and awesome,” Eaton-Cardone explains. “I hate to get on my soapbox but if you take a look at the electives girls have to study versus boys, all of the boys’ subjects are actually career path electives while there’s just not the career demand for the skills they teach girls.”

Whether it will ever be possible to make up for lost time is yet to be seen. Eaton-Cardone agrees, “We're making strides but we're never going to catch up if we don’t change the way the systems are working. Even if it means taking away some of the liberties children have with choosing things, we have to ensure we’re affording everyone the exact same exposure. Whether you're a girl or a boy, you deserve to have the same education and be taught computer programming and all these things. By giving them the choice to say ‘no, I'm not interested’ we're actually taking away a whole lot of prospects they'll have in the future when it comes to choosing a career.”

While such an approach might seem dramatic to some, it’s clear change is needed at some level to address the problem. As the world continues to evolve, there could come a point where not having technical skills is no longer an option.

Once again, we’re back to the key question posed by Eaton-Cardone: Should school appeal to the interests of a teenager or should it be a foundation for helping them develop necessary skills and build a career for the future?