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Would you be surprised if I told you that the percentage of high school students reporting computer literacy has been declining since 1999? According to the National Center for Women & Information Technology, 17% of surveyed high school students reported no computer science school work at all, and 60% of these students were girls.

In spite of these distressing numbers, recent data gives some reason for optimism – female representation among students with programming experience has increased  from 42% in 1999 to 60% in 2013.

Why are these statistics mentioned? Well it just so happens that my own company’s future depends on women leaders to develop STEM based skills.

During the SAP Retail Forum on October 7th, I had the chance to observe several key sessions that relate to developing the next generation of technology workers and leaders.

BTECH Design Thinking Workshop

Have you heard of BTECH yet? Well you will, as an increasing amount of schools are popping up around the country that focus entirely on STEM education. BTECH just so happens to be supported by SAP, as a move to help the U.S. and Canada to develop next gen talent. We sat down with SAP employees, customers, and partners in a design thinking workshop to figure out ways to improve the school’s facilities, amenities, and curriculum.

GenYouth Business Ideas

GenYouth is an amazing organization that combines child health with entrepreneurial development. How does that work, you ask? The genius in the mission of the organization is that the children are the ones that come up with ideas for future programs.

On the afternoon of October 7th, there were 4 groups that were paired with a young person from GenYouth. The groups collaborated and refined their business ideas, and ultimately the young go-getters had to present in front of Alexis Glick, CEO of GenYouth.

After all 4 team leaders (aka youth from GenYouth) presented their ideas, Alexis and a team of judges contemplated and ultimately awarded the winner with a plaque and bragging rights.

Women Account for a $20 Trillion Worldwide Market

Now we come full circle to a panel of women, who, with the right education, ambition, and networking, have risen to the top of their fields to be leaders. They are essentially what students at BTECH and participants in GenYouth aspire to be, so it’s rewarding to see what the potential is for 2 extraordinary programs.

We were graced by the presence of 4 extraordinary women leaders from PepsiCo, Gilt Group, Brooks Brothers, and SAP. All had unique stories to tell, but this bullet list sums up the key statements:

  • With the rise of digital, mobile, and social, all departments in a company need to work together. Silos will destroy your business, but women have an advantage in being highly collaborative.
  • Expressing your ideas and being confident about them makes your gender irrelevant
  • Companies who have at least 3 females on their board produce 80% more revenue than companies that do not. This would back up the hypothesis that diversity is good for business.
  • When driving cultural change at your company, evaluate your leaders not only on their ability to generate business results, but an equal amount of weight on developing their people. It’s a 50-50 split.

Whether you’re a young person looking to develop your skills for the future, or you’re a leader hoping to empower the next generation of talent, it’s pretty clear that the epicenter of everything starts in the education systems. If we get education right, we will build resilience into our business models.

Click on the respective links to learn more about SAP’s involvement with BTECH and GenYouth.

I leave you with some very compelling stats in this infographic from the National Environmental Education Foundation on the future impact of STEM related jobs: