Sep 29, 2014 · 3 minutes

As more and more jobs are created by technology firms, one of the biggest issues facing the sector is how to ensure those opportunities are available to all, not limited just young, white males. And with women only making up 20 percent of American programmers, according to the US Department of Labor, and high profile firms like Twitter, Facebook, and Google employing even lower percentages of females on their technology staffs, the gender gap is real.

But while the problem is obvious, the solution is not. Only 18 percent of computer science degrees were awarded to women last year, which is down from 37 percent in 1985. The reason for this worsening discrepancy isn't simple either, resulting from the interplay between biases both implicit and explicit. Many great organizations have arisen to help address these imbalances, like Girls Who Code, Black Girls Code, and digitalundivided. And now one major tech firm thinks it's found the perfect economic opportunity to help facilitate a major influx of new female tech workers.

Intel announced today that it is sponsoring the IC3 IT Cloud Computing Conference in San Francisco on October 27 and 28. The company will offer free admission for the first 50 female students who register, along with half-price registration for all female attendees.

The thinking behind this promotion goes beyond paying lip service to diversity advocates. Intel and IC3 strongly believe that the rise of cloud computing is a perfect opportunity to engage women in tech and increase their numbers in the larger national workforce.

"There's a huge demand and need for skill users in cloud computing," says Paul Owen, Executive Director of IC3. The US Department of Labor predicts that by 2020 there will be 1.4 million job openings to lead the transition to a cloud-based Internet economy -- and yet at this rate universities are only expected to fill 29 percent of that need.

It's a big opportunity for all workers, but particularly for those who haven't already been working in IT for years because of the unique skillset required. Owen explains that instead of the highly specialized work done by system administrators today, where each individual is responsible for one component of a company's infrastructure, these new jobs will require workers to be more like jacks-of-all-trades.

"It's a huge technical and cultural change," Owen says.

That's where the IC3 conference adds value. It offers training seminars on Amazon Web Services and Google's Cloud Platform. Attendees can then go through Google and Amazon to become certified in these fields.

As for Intel, it has long been engaged with communities of women technology workers or aspiring workers. It is aligned with Girls Who Code and has sponsored Girl Geek Dinners that connect computer science students with professional tech women in the Bay Area.

Sarah Bryan, Research Assistant for Intel President Renee James, says the company also hosts workshops where they bring young women interested in technology to Intel's headquarters to listen to high-ranking female Intel employees tell their story.

"They basically ask me to come talk about my journey, what did I do in college, what was I like in high school, and it was a very open and honest conversation about my own journey," Bryan says.

Bryan attributes at least some of the company's emphasis on diversity and STEM education to its executive team which, in addition to James, includes a number of very senior women like Senior Vice President of Intel's Data Center Group Diane Bryant and Chief Information Officer Kim Stevenson.

Studies have shown that creating a diverse workforce is not only fair, it also increases a company's bottom line. As for Intel's IC3 sponsorship, this is a unique example of where an emphasis on diversity is perfectly aligned with boosting not only one company's success, but the success of an entire industry.

Or as Intel's communications director Tom Waldrop puts it, "There's both an opportunity to address some of the gender gap in technology and IT while at the same time helping to make the cloud revolution happen in a faster, more efficient way."

[illustration by Hallie Bateman]