4 thoughts on women in IT from Cerner software engineer Jordan Kalal

In healthcare, as in most industries, there is notably low representation of women in leadership positions. A recent study in Journal of Women's Health found just 20 percent of full-time faculty members in U.S. academic medicine are women. Additionally, a Harvard Business Review study found men greatly outnumber women on executive committees of companies across all industries, at 83 percent and 17 percent, respectively.

This gap is even more pronounced in the STEM fields, an area of study which is notorious for its lack of women.

However, there are women breaking this mold. HIStalk sat down with Jordan Kalal, a software engineer with Cerner, to discuss women in health IT.

Here are four key thoughts from Ms. Kalal from the interview.

On why women are underrepresented in technical fields: It is in part because of impostor syndrome, which is not a self-fulfilling prophecy, but the condition of being underrepresented. That keeps people out. You become the representation for your gender. That's a big role to take on and people don't want to do it. 

A lot of it is social conditioning, which we were overcoming up until the 1980s. That's why every other STEM field has fared a lot better than us in the technical field. As toys and movies started getting into tech and computers more, they were geared towards boys and they were geared towards a bad image. You have two factors working against you. Your male peers have been exposed more to it all throughout childhood and adolescence. Then the way it's represented in movies and comic books and all of that — very nerdy, very loser-ish. 

On the rise and fall of women working in STEM fields: Starting in the 1960s, the percentage of women in [physics, chemistry, IT and mathematics] starts out really low — you know, down to zero. [They then start] trending up, trending up, trending up. Then while the other three careers continue trending up to the point we're at now — we're right about 40 to 50 percent for most of those STEM careers — computer science actually dips right at 1987, I believe, when personal computers were introduced. They were marketed and put in little boys' rooms. It was the first time you have that disparity in exposure. 

We trended down to the point we're at now, where from 1991 we were at 37 percent of women in computer-related fields and now we're down to, I believe, 26 percent. If you go even farther, it's only 12 percent of women in software engineering kind of roles. On the trend down, that's a nine percent drop just in my lifetime. That's a massive drop that really can't be ignored.

On women in tech changing careers: Forty-five percent of women in tech fall off of the tech wagon, essentially by the age of 35. You're talking about half your female workforce in this industry leaving for another job in a different career path. A lot of people, when they talk about the reason for the shortage or trying to vie for that, they say, "Why don't we start hitting that demographic?" And saying, these women aren't staying home to become mothers — they're leaving for a different career because they've been pushed out by the culture or stuff like that.

On how to encourage more females and minorities to pursue careers in tech: We talk about the fallout very young with gender stereotypes and then with toys. By fourth grade, half of females aren't interested in STEM any more. Then you talk about the high schoolers trying to choose a career and they don’t go into this. Then of course, even past that, going into career, you have the fallout of women engineers from tech.

My suggestion is to try to just fix one piece. Choose one thing and do it very well. Focus on an age group and try to key into them and provide a quality experience that's fun and that keeps them engaged.

To read the full interview, click here.

More articles on health IT:

Funding HIEs: A chicken and egg scenario
athenahealth COO Ed Park: Lessons on customer service from Amazon
When EHRs collide: Dealing with multiple systems after mergers, acquisitions

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