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Women in Tech: How Do We Stop the Drop The numbers of women working in technology are low, with more dropping out each year. How can business entrepreneurs help reverse the trend?

By Jessica Billingsley

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

It's no secret that women are underrepresented in the global workforce, and when it comes to technology, the numbers shrink even more. In the mid-'90s, when I was entering college, technology was beginning to explode, and it was becoming more apparent each day that it would be the future of business. Because of that, I entered the computer science program at the University of Georgia as one of only three women enrolled at the time. Given that it was still an emerging industry, I foresaw a continuous uphill path for women entering the technology field.

What I didn't predict was that it would only get worse. There is a smaller percentage of women in technology careers today than there was 25 years ago, and of those remaining, 56% drop out midway through.

There have been countless studies that show the proven value of having women in the workforce at every rank, from entry-level to leadership positions. And yet, we clearly have the issue of getting them — and keeping them — here.

Related: 10 Powerful Women in Tech Share Their Best Advice for Managing a Team

Diversity = ROI

As the CEO of a data-rich software company focused on building ecosystems, I think a lot about data and how it relates to larger problems, and we know that numbers don't lie. It is proven that bringing more gender diversity into an organization leads to better problem solving, increased innovation and thought diversity. When women are in leadership roles, the benefits are even more pronounced as businesses see increased revenue. Even with this data-backed insight, women-led companies make up only 7.4% of the 2020 Fortune 500 companies. There is so much dormant potential — and with it, economic gain — that is waiting to be realized.

The impact of women in technology is undeniable; finding ways to keep these women engaged and appreciated in the workforce they are so rapidly leaving behind is the challenge.

Small efforts = big changes

The 56% dropout statistic really resonated with me. Unsurprisingly, most of those dropouts result from feelings of being undervalued, receiving lower pay than men, lacking a seat at the leadership table and difficulty maintaining socially reinforced unequal workloads in the home.

So, if we know the value and the issue, how do we change the workforce? You can approach this change from a few different perspectives. There are notable grand initiatives in place, such as requiring female leadership in C-suites and boardrooms. While these are certainly worthy of attention, I wanted to contribute personally to this cause by doing something on the micro-level that would translate to macro-level change. Three years ago, I launched the One Woman Challenge, in which I ask everyone to commit to one action to support one woman in her career. It can be as simple as having a coffee, making an email introduction or taking on a mentee.

The challenge is for every woman, no matter their field or title. While some of these women are the CEOs and board members of tomorrow, leadership happens at all levels, and women at every level must be valued in the workplace. When we find ways to support women daily, weekly and monthly, it enables them to feel more comfortable, appreciated and valued in their careers.

If it weren't for one woman's efforts in particular I wouldn't be where I am in my industry today. I was initially invited to invest in one of the first legal Colorado cannabis operators, The Farm, by its founder, Jan Cole. And I am forever grateful that she tapped me to have a stake in this fast-growing market.

Men's essential support

Women's equality in the workplace is an issue for everyone, not just women. With technology and cannabis workforces primarily comprised of men for the moment, we must enlist their support as allies. Akerna's Chief Operating Officer, Ray Thompson, has been consistent in his efforts to help women. Three years ago, he set a goal to mentor the leaders of at least four female-founded businesses per month, which he has continuously exceeded, lending his technical expertise, leadership lessons and experiences.

When Akerna was still a private company, all of our investors were men who clearly saw promise not only in our business, but were also willing to invest in a woman at the helm. Roger McNamee, one of our early investors, even helped me launch the One Woman Challenge, and he has always encouraged others to approach this issue with the same earnestness as other business matters. He views it, correctly, as a matter of equality and business performance. When women succeed, we all benefit.

Related: Brooklyn-Bred Business Owner Starts Student-Entrepreneur Grant in Immigrant Parents' Names

As we close out this Women's History Month, I challenge people everywhere to think about how their daily actions can help women succeed in businesses. Unless you are willing to make it, you will never know what that one connection, coffee, or conference could spark. Changing the world starts with changing one life.

Jessica Billingsley

Chairman of the Board & Chief Executive Officer of Akerna

Jessica Billingsley serves as Akerna’s CEO. In June 2019. she became the first CEO of a cannabis-technology company to be listed on Nasdaq. She co-founded MJ Freeway in 2010, where she served as president until April 2018, and later as the CEO until MJ Freeway was acquired by MTech to form Akerna.

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