"If we could say to girls, 'You're going to try this out,' they might discover they really love programming." -- Sara Edwards, Asante Health System
Sara Edwards, an applications analyst at Asante Health System in Medford, Ore., who initially crossed over to IT via a clerical job in healthcare, believes the solution lies in changing how computer science is presented to female students in high school and college.
At her high school, only students who excelled in math, specifically calculus, were encouraged to sign up for the one programming class, which was an elective. "Computer science programs -- all STEM classes, I think -- need to be mandatory, not electives. If we could say to girls, 'You're going to try this out,' and get good teachers that make it fun for them, they might discover they really love programming," Edwards says. "You don't know what you're going to love until you do it."
Edwards is currently a senior pursuing a bachelor's degree in computer information science at Southern Oregon University. She says there are "never more than four or five" women in the classroom. What female professors she does have tend to be on the business side of the discipline; with one exception, the instructors who teach programming are all male. "They're not anti-female, they're very nice, and they'll help you if you need it," Edwards says. "But I do see a need in computer science for more women. We could use some mentoring."
That's how it worked for Kathleen Healy-Collier, who holds bachelor's and master's degrees in healthcare and is preparing the oral defense of her Ph.D. thesis in health administration at the Medical University of South Carolina.
Healy-Collier is the administrative director -- essentially, the IT director -- at Le Bonheur Children's Hospital, which is part of a five-hospital coalition in Memphis. She says that she sees more and more women in healthcare making moves like hers.
"I've been in the industry for 18 years, and when I started out, it was totally male-dominated," says Healy-Collier. "If you go back even further, 30 years, healthcare systems were all 'man's work': in the back room, with paper-based records." The only integrated data systems tended to be financial or production tools, which appealed to a narrow audience. It's no surprise the CIO or IT director role went to a traditional IS or MIS graduate, most often a male.
I've been in the [healthcare] industry for 18 years, and when I started out, it was totally male-dominated. Kathleen Healy-Collier, Le Bonheur Children's Hospital