Can cloud computing help cure the high-tech gender gap?
The U.S Department of Labor predicts the rise of cloud computing technologies and services will create 1.4 million specialized jobs by 2020. No one knows exactly how those positions will be filled. Right now, U.S. universities will only produce qualified candidates for about 29% of them.
Intel (INTC) is just one of a growing number of high-tech companies that view that anticipated gap as a way to get more women involved in technology careers. It’s putting money behind that belief by paying half the registration for women attending the inaugural IT Cloud Computing Conference (IC3) in San Francisco in late October. Actually, it will help up to 50 female students enrolled in science, technology, engineering, and math—known as STEM—majors get in for free. (The walk-in registration for the two-day event is normally $1,800.)
“By giving women the opportunity to meet and network at a conference like this really changes the discussion,” says Raejeanne Skillern, general manager of the cloud service provider business for Intel. Skillern is also a member of CloudNOW (a.k.a. Cloud Network of Women), a non-profit consortium focused on diversity.
Here’s why Intel’s interest matters. After the company created a dedicated internal mentoring network more than a dozen years ago to coach and push female engineers to stretch themselves, the number who reached high-level positions doubled (from 22 to 56). Then, Intel earned the Anita Borg Institute’s Top Company for Women in Computing award for 2013 and 2014. (Plus, the company’s president Renée James is No. 21 on the latest Fortune Most Powerful Women list).
Right now, women hold fewer than 25% of all computing and technical jobs, even though they outnumber men on social networks and spend more time online per month than their male counterparts. Couple those trends with the disruption cloud services pose to traditional IT cultures, and the tide could be turning, Skillern believes.
“This is a harder transition for traditional IT organizations than one would think,” echoes Paul Owen, executive director for IC3. “You need to become a line-of-business expert. These jobs are not bound by culture and legacy.”
Incidentally, the IC3 conference instructors hail from the likes of Amazon, Google and IBM SoftLayer. Sure, this is just one small event with maybe 400 attendees, but Intel’s aggressive sponsorship is the latest public acknowledgement by one of the high-tech industry’s biggest companies that there’s a gender problem. An especially high-profile national initiative intended to close the gap is Girls Who Code, backed by Amazon, Facebook, Google, Intel, Intuit, Microsoft, and others. The non-profit started in 2012 with just 20 girls but could reach 3,000 members by the end of 2014.
This item first appeared in the Sept. 30 edition of Data Sheet, Fortune’s daily newsletter on the business of technology. Sign up here.