WICT tackled several hot topics at its annual "Tech It Out" event at SCTE in Atlanta last Wednesday, but the dwindling number of women taking on tech roles in cable was top of mind. Despite aggressive mentoring programs and longstanding industry efforts, many in the audience gasped when moderator Leslie Ellis pointed out that the ratio of female to male cable techies has actually declined over the last 30 years. "This happened on our watch," she said.

The challenge, of course, is figuring out what to do about it, with Comcast vp, engineering Sherita Ceasar arguing that "getting [women] connected with passionate curiosity [about tech] is probably the hardest thing to do… We’ve got to create that tipping point for passionate curiosity for women." Ceasar, who revealed wanting to be a car mechanic when she was growing up, said many millennial women engage heavily with tech in their personal lives but need to hear more about what makes those gadgets tick.

They also need to hear more about how exciting tech careers can be, said Bright House pres Nomi Bergman. "Talking about those things will help us keep women in technology," she said, suggesting that too much discussion of work-life balance could be deterring some women from taking on intense tech projects. "To me, ‘balance’ is a four-letter word." Cablevision svp, video infrastructure software Stephanie Mitchko-Beale said she prefers the word "integration" to describe how to weave job and family together; she said it’s all about priorities. "I’ve paid attention to my family when it’s really important, and I’ve paid attention to my career when it’s really important," she said. "That has worked for me."

In an earlier keynote, Kim Perdikou, independent dir of Juniper Networks ‘ Innovation Fund Portfolio Companies, said it’s key to be very clear up front with everyone around you about how a job may affect them or other life commitments—as problems usually come when people are surprised after the fact. Rather than worry about balance, women with an interest in tech should follow their passions and ignore naysayers, panelists said. "There are jerky people," said Mitchko-Beale, whose first engineering professor told her to try a cooking class instead. "There are people who are going to discourage you."

Ceasar said it’s important to mentor and encourage girls as early as possible—before they’re socialized away from tech. "That’s how we make a difference," she said. "We plant that seed as early as we can." But Mitchko-Beale said no one should wait for those encouraging words before taking action. "You might be waiting around for a long time," she said.

Editor’s Note: The story originally appeared in CableFAX Daily. Subscribe here.

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