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Women in Technology

I recently saw the Oscar nominated film Hidden Figures, which prompted me to also read the book of the same name by Margot Lee Shetterly. Hidden Figures shares the true story of three African-American female mathematicians who worked at NASA in the early 1960s. Their contributions would prove to be vital to the launch of astronaut John Glenn into space. These incredible women broke countless social barriers to fill a pivotal role during the height of the Space Race when I was growing up. Their contributions to NASA altered history.

Women provide a critical voice in the workplace, but, in some fields, women are clearly underrepresented. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, only 26 percent of those employed in STEM occupations are women. In Arkansas, we are working to improve that number by encouraging young women to study in these fields to prepare them for careers in business and STEM.

There are currently 5,500 high school students enrolled in computer science courses in Arkansas, and 28 percent of those students are female. This number shows a 49 percent increase in female enrollment in computer science over the previous school year. The percentage of female students involved in computer science has not yet met our goal, but I am confident that our state will continue to see that number rise in coming years.

Arkansas continues to set an example nationally by encouraging young women to engage in STEM fields. Just last month, I was pleased to announce Yessica Jones as the Director of the Department of Information Systems for our state. In addition, she also serves as the State Chief Technology Officer and the State Broadband Manager. Arkansas’s Amy Fecher has also led the way in technology and innovation through her role as Chief Transformation Officer for the state of Arkansas. Both of these leaders have earned national recognition, being named among the Top Women in Technology for 2017 by StateScoop, a national government and technology publication.

Next week, I will attend the Women in IT Conference at the Walton College of Business. I’m looking forward to speaking to the importance of increasing the involvement of women in fields of technology. These leaders serve as an inspiration to other women pursuing STEM careers, and I am confident they will continue to lead the way in advancements in technology in our state.

Altogether, the innovation and entrepreneurship of women in fields of technology play a critical role in enhancing and continuing the development of Arkansas’s technology industry.

In 1961, the "hidden figures" blazed a trail for African-American women by calculating the trajectory for Apollo 11 and 13. Arkansas is hard at work to continue that legacy by training and equipping the next generation of female STEM trailblazers.

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