Women in IT: Time To Close the Gender Gap

By Susan Nunziata  |  Posted Tuesday, March 15, 2011 15:03 PM

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.