As corporations push to add women in tech fields — with high-profile backers including Lockheed Martin and Electronic Arts — some leaders say they are seeing results in Central Florida.
Organizers behind the programs, which feature female employees leading activities designed to reach female workers and students directly, say they can serve two purposes: show female students potential career paths and help businesses foster future workers.
“They have an interest in making sure there is a workforce coming out of the schools,” said Heather Norton, vice president of education at the Orlando Science Center. “And we want to show our learners that there are viable opportunities in their own backyard.”
The efforts appear to be paying off.
Harris Corporation officials say they have seen the percentage of women executives in their workforce rise from 19 to 32 percent in the last five years.
The University of Central Florida’s video game school, meanwhile, also has seen an increase in women’s enrollment.
The latest approach in Orlando is being led by Tupperware, which on Saturday will host 30 girls from the Kissimmee Boys & Girls Club to learn the basics of coding at the Science Center. It will be the second of back-to-back weekends for the class.
“Every time a girl is educated in STEM, it means a greater opportunity for her economically and professionally,” said Yolanda Londono, vice president of social responsibility at Tupperware Brands. “It makes sense for us. STEM professions have usually been populated by boys and men.”
Karen Rush has bucked that trend. She is senior development director for EA’s John Madden football series and helps lead a team for one of the industry’s most-iconic franchises.
She said the company looks for partnerships in Central Florida to create ways to increase the number of women in the industry.
“It starts with recruitment,” she said. “One of the things we are looking at is, how do we reach more women?”
EA recently attracted more than 250 high school students, college students and parents to UCF’s downtown video game school to learn about the gaming industry and the role women play in it.
Locally, women’s interest in game development has been on the rise.
UCF’s video game school, Florida Interactive Entertainment Academy, has seen its population of female students climb recently. Initially, around 8 percent of the students at FIEA were women. However, that has tripled and FIEA Executive Director Ben Noel says that the number has sat between 24 and 27 percent during the last three years.
“Closing the gender gap in games and simulation will not only provide more opportunities for women, but will result in better games and products,” he said.
Lockheed Martin has started several programs that bring boys and girls into their high-tech work environment.
Those efforts are a way to potentially stave off a workforce shortage that the defense industry faces, said Rita Flaherty, vice president of strategy and business development at Lockheed Martin’s Orlando-based Missiles and Fire Control unit.
“There is a return on investment here,” she said. “It’s coming back to us in terms of employees. It’s a matter of Lockheed Martin securing a talent pipeline.”
Harris has spurred growth by specifically targeting women in its recruitment efforts and providing support programs for women, said Bob Duffy, senior vice president of human resources and administration.
“Harris is in the business of innovation, which requires diverse viewpoints,” he said. “Our long-term success relies on an inclusive culture where a variety of perspectives are not just accepted, but expected.”
The company has contributed $22 million to programs that support STEM education; Duffy said one of the goals of that effort is to develop the next generation of women in STEM.
“We need to grow the women STEM talent pool and attract them to enter the industry,” he said. “That means engaging students at an early age, fostering STEM interest throughout their education, showcasing the tremendous career opportunities, and continuing to strengthen and expand women’s initiatives within the workplace.”