Women in IT: Time To Close the Gender Gap


By Tony Kontzer

With the craziness unfolding in the world, from the devastation in the wake of the March 11 earthquake in Japan to the political upheavals throughout the Middle East and North Africa, it's not surprising that a series of reports about the IT job market would slip by, relatively unnoticed. That's unfortunate, because these aren't your garden-variety announcements about employment trends or salary projections. They are revelations that strike at the core of a disturbing trend in IT: Namely that the field continues to be less than welcoming for women.

The first pertains to research findings from the U.K.'s IT Job Board indicating that just 16 percent of all IT jobseekers there are women, a startlingly low number that demands explanation. Thankfully, Alex Farrell, managing director of the IT Job Board, provides a blunt assessment.

"The sector is male-dominated, and -- I believe -- a prejudice exists that men are perhaps more proficient when it comes to IT," she says in a prepared statement. "Of course, this doesn't paint an accurate picture, and the sector boasts a wealth of female talent -- talent which should be championed."

Appropriately, the IT Job Board, a well-known IT recruitment site, chose International Women's Day to share its findings, simultaneously launching a "Women in IT" campaign geared to encourage more young women to choose a career path in IT.

Just a few days later, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee shared results of a study indicating that women are more likely to leave the IT profession because of an unfavorable work environment than due to family-related reasons. The factors women cite as turnoffs include:

  • sour working conditions
  • rigorous travel demands
  • lack of advancement
  • paltry salaries

As if on some karmic cue, the U.S. Department of Labor earlier this month published a barrage of statistics about women and work that shows that women in IT -- in particular, those holding jobs as "computer and information systems managers" -- can expect to be paid 81.8 percent of what men earn in the same jobs. Sure, that's better than women in real estate, finance, retail or law fared, but it's far worse than what awaits women who chose to become social workers, postal clerks, nurses or, ahem, editors. And really, better or worse means little when pretty much every woman is getting paid less than her male counterpart simply because she's a woman.

(The only women who make more than their male counterparts, according to the Labor Department, are those who work in food service, or as bill collectors, stock clerks or order fillers. Not exactly the career paths of which most women dream.)

Collectively, these various numbers should cause you to do more than take notice; you should be shaken into action. At a time when IT departments need to innovate more than ever to help their companies stake a claim on the fast-changing economic landscape, the industry is effectively chasing away half of its potential talent pool.

CIOs can play a huge role in reversing this trend by establishing a hiring process, work environment, mentoring program and compensation policy that will give the brilliant female minds out there fewer reasons to reject IT. And, the men in IT leadership positions can't sit around waiting for the handful of female CIOs to lead the brigade -- they simply don't have the numbers. Changing this trend will require an industry-wide change in mindset.


4 Comments for "Women in IT: Time To Close the Gender Gap"

  • Maggie July 01, 2011 12:29 pm

    I find that younger managers, especially, believe the gender gap is closed, and sexism is no longer an issue. And when specific events are brought to HR, they are stunned to realize they have accepted and even created a hostile work environment. Time off to care for kids is used by both female and male staff, and both men and women bring their kids to work occasionally. I'm very happy that my employer is family-friendly, and I think more employers should do the same.

  • Elizabeth May 25, 2011 1:27 pm

    Dave, you are part of the issue. No surprise that women don't want to do anything that males control? Let me tell you something--I was working on my own car in the 1970s, remodeled a house from the ground up in the 1980s and entered the around the same time. I actually had a manager tell me the same thing you said--while I was on a ladder running cable to hook up four new computers in his offices. We DO want to do the work, but there is still this IBM mentality that the only thing women should be fixing is coffee. For those who don't know, IBM had a policy for the longest time that only men would be techs and only CERTAIN men at that. Women were not allowed in the field because "the [presumably male] client would be upset some little girl was fixing something he couldn't". The last job interview I went on ended up pretty much the same way--I was actually told hiring me would keep some man from taking care of his family. As if I don't have one to take care of, too?! It is this kind of garbage that keeps women out of IT, not "family issues" or not wanting to work in "man jobs".

  • Karen April 30, 2011 11:23 am

    "unfavorable work environment than due to family-related reasons" Usually that's not the problem. In fact, it's a myth that just won't quit. Even the four factors you include in this article have nothing to do with family.

  • Dave April 11, 2011 9:48 am

    It's no surprise that women don't want to be programmers or tech support personnel. The same wold go for women not wanting to be auto mechanics, carpenters, or any other male dominated career. And likewise for men wanting to be nurses, personal support workers, admin assistants, interior decorators, etc. I do however see quite a few women as IT business analysts. The truth is that people get into a career that they think they will enjoy, or one that they can tolerate and are good at. If you want more women to be techies then the best route is to include education in it when they are really young that is geared to them, write apps and games that cater to them, and spark more interest in the logical disciplines like math and science.

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