Women In IT: Is There An Exodus In Progress? - InformationWeek

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Women In IT: Is There An Exodus In Progress?

Studies show efforts by governments, non-profits, and enterprises are still not drawing women to IT. In fact, the number of women in the field looks to be dwindling.

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Women are leaving the UK IT field in large numbers, according to a study released this month by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills. US data shows similar trends. Despite much talk of diversity from major tech companies and significant initiatives by non-profits and corporations alike, we're losing the battle to get women into IT. This couldn't come at a worse time, as demand for skilled IT workers is increasing.

The UK study, based on data from multiple UK government surveys as well as in-depth telephone interviews with 20 employers, provided perhaps the most depressing piece of data in recent memory: Only 24% of IT workers in the UK are women. That's down from 33% a decade ago.

According to the National Center for Women and IT, the numbers aren't much better in the US. The organization uses a variety of sources to compile its data, including the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the National Center for Education Statistics. The organization reported that in 2012, only 26% of IT jobs were held by women. And while women earned 57% of the undergraduate degrees in the US in 2012, only 18% of computer and information science degrees were earned by women that year. Compare this to 1985, when 37% of CS degrees were earned by women.

The number of first-year undergraduate women interested in majoring in computer science declined 64% between 2000 and 2012, according to the National Center for Women and IT.

Worse yet, according to a 2014 study from the Center for Talent Innovation, US women are 45% more likely than men to leave IT once they arrive.

We are neither drawing more women to the field, nor are we keeping them there when they do arrive.

The UK study shows that the IT sector will need 1.2 million more skilled workers by 2022. There are similar problems in the US, with the Bureau of Labor and Statistics predicting that the need for most IT jobs will grow by 25% by 2022.

It isn't as if we aren't trying. Earlier this year, Intel pledged $300 million to diversity efforts. Apple pledged $50 million. Most major companies have paid lip service to the idea. Last year, Intel VP Bernadette Andrietti was quoted in Forbes talking about how concerted efforts of governments to attract women to STEM were going to pay off in the near future.

[ Here are some other ideas for what Apple could do with all its cash. Read Apple Watch Alternatives: 10 Gadgets The Company Should Have Made. ]

There was once a belief that if more women were in the field, more women would feel comfortable there, but since the number in the field is dropping, clearly that isn't going to work out. What are we to do?

(Image: enisaksoy via iStockphoto)

(Image: enisaksoy via iStockphoto)

Honestly, it appears we're fresh out of ideas. For all the small victories helping women get into IT, we can't cite any measurable trend that shows women are more interested in IT than they used to be. If anything, the opposite seems to be true. This is a real crisis. It isn't merely a diversity issue. It is actually one of survival for enterprises trying to bridge the talent gap and charge headlong into the digital future.

David has been writing on business and technology for over 10 years and was most recently Managing Editor at Enterpriseefficiency.com. Before that he was an Assistant Editor at MIT Sloan Management Review, where he covered a wide range of business topics including IT, ... View Full Bio

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eileen coyle
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eileen coyle,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/1/2015 | 6:28:27 AM
GirlsWhoCode
Hi we recently did an interview piece with a GirlsWhoCode club in Chicago. It's a real inspirational piece and well worth a read to get to know some of the work that's going on to get more girls into IT. The article can be found on the Fluid UI blog or by searching girls-who-code-fluid-ui

Thanks
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
6/24/2015 | 11:53:44 AM
Re: two steps forward...
@kstaron- Yup, those little things like "girls don't do that" pile up and all the billion dollar programs in the world can't fix it if they've already got it in their head at kindergarten they can't do it. 

With all due respect to some of the hard working pre-school and early education teachers aroung, and there are many, I find the most destructive person to progress in this world right now to be the early grades teacher. I can't tell you how many times I've heard teachers say things that infuriate me and they don't even know they say it.

I visited a pre-school where the head mistresses said to her entire class that "mommies like to talk" and "daddies like to work." And this was an expensive and supposedly "liberal" and "elite" pre-school.

We drive my daughter 40 minutes every day to a public charter school just to avoid those sorts of messages and I can still see they are hitting her every day.
kstaron
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kstaron,
User Rank: Ninja
6/24/2015 | 11:17:52 AM
two steps forward...
I find this study disappointing. I was hoping by the time my kids were working age the gap would have all but closed, but I still hear moms in bookstores whining to their little girls to get some 'girl' books as the girls check out stuff on robots and dinosaurs and space rockets. And while I didn't go into IT, I do remember the off hand comments from substitute teachers to the girls in the advanced physics class (they were sure the boys could explain it to us.) I remember my own mother telling me I wouldn't get a boyfriend if I read those magazines (Those magazines being Air and Space). Moving out of traditional gender roles is still an ongoing process. I hope this exodus is only the step backward before we progress a few steps forwards again.
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
6/23/2015 | 1:41:33 PM
Re: Women in IT
@deb_heller- Thanks for your perspective and also for reminding us of something important. this career isn't something we should ever treat like a commodity. Everyone who reads IWeek does this because they love it and it should always be that way. If we just start cramming people into the job because we need people and because it makes good money, the whole indsutry will suffer. 
zerox203
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zerox203,
User Rank: Ninja
6/19/2015 | 7:35:20 PM
Re: Women In IT: Is There An Exodus In Progress
This headline was a bit shocking to me at first, but, after thinking about women I know my age, maybe not so much. There is a generation gap to consider here. Like you said, Dave, many young people take their technical savvy for granted - they use the internet (mobile, etc.) for their work whether they're an artist, an entrepeneur, or a small business owner - they don't need a degree to tell them they know their stuff. So many tech-savvy women I know are going to school to become artists - but they use all digital programs to make their art, they post and promote their work online, and they take commissions and manage their own payment through digital services. I wonder what would happen to these numbers if we counted people like them (UK survery was for 'digital worker' - US facts you linked says 'computing occupations')? Are they so different from an independent App developer?

There's a conscious shift amongst millenials from wanting to work a 9-to-5 grind to favoring fast-paced, flexible environments. This doesn't explain the huge gender gap, but maybe it's a piece of the puzzle - I bet you'd find a higher percentage of women at startups who cultivate that kind of culture. There's no doubt old-school industrial (sexist) assumptions are still playing a role: more than half of women in IT leave the workforce midway through their career; 20% "take time out of the workforce". There's nothing wrong with that, but I doubt the number is close for men. It's still assumed that that's an option for women, not for men. We have paid maternity leave, but rarely paid paternity leave. This all gives the impression that women are a 'different' (if not lower) class of workers, and puts pressures on them that their career is temporary or not important. That's as big a problem as anything.
deb_heller
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deb_heller,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/19/2015 | 5:36:42 PM
Women in IT
I've been in IT since before there was a name for it.  I've been called a technician, an applications engineer, a computer systems engineer.  Then along about 1997, or so, System Administration/Administrator became The Thing. Later, that became Information Technologist.  When SunOS was version 1.3, I started as a System Administrator at a California University.  I had a degree in Biology - but even before I went to college I had been a Data Systems Technician in the US Navy. I liked to tinker.

I give this background to say that I always felt at ease with technology, and always fit in with the guys - cuz there were never other women in my group anyway.  At least, not until I went to SGI in 1995, and there were like a dozen women doing what I did.  As years went by, I was to learn that that was the exception to the rule.  Since then, I've worked with a few women, here and there, in IT.  I think it's a job that attracts a certain curiosity about how things work. It requires unending patience with male egos, and it requires one to constantly tinker and keep abreast of new technologies.  

If a woman doesn't have the personal prerequisites for a career in IT, I think she'll gravitate to something that she enjoys. It's not a job for just anyone.  The best IT engineers I have ever worked with do not have engineering degrees at all.  They're English majors, or scientists of a different ilk.  Because of the diversity of interests, people tend to go where their interests lie - I think women are more willing to move on, than to stay in a job that may not have all the qualities she is looking for.  YMMV, but these are my observations over 30+ years in the industry.
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
6/18/2015 | 1:45:08 PM
Re: Women in the IT Field
@jastroff- I'm sure this is a local game at this point. There's a lot of anecdotal evidence pointing to the idea that women in It with a bad management experience leave. Annual reviews don't add up. They aren't given the same oppotunity to do challenging work, etc. the sort of giant institutionalized sexism is hard to get away with (but I think any woman would tell you it still exists in places), but the day to day to fight is one on one and it is harder to fight.
jastroff
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jastroff,
User Rank: Ninja
6/18/2015 | 1:39:42 PM
Re: Women in the IT Field
>> They feel a lack of opportunity to advance. They lack equal pay. 

Interesting. I would probably say that was true when I was a full time IT person -- a while back. It's better now, but not enough

 

 

 
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
6/18/2015 | 12:29:10 PM
Re: interest and focus
@impactnow= I guess it is possible people feel like the job isn't interesting anymore because it has all been done. It is a part of our lives, so maybe they think about something else. But I think that's a mistake because I think we're barely scratching the surface.
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
6/18/2015 | 12:22:46 PM
Re: Women in the IT Field
@jastroff- There's a lot of data on why women who leave are leaving. They feel a lack of opportunity to adnvance. They lack equal pay. A general discomfort brought on by a lack of women. Some (but not as many as people think) leave to start a family. 

there's less data on what they do next or whether they find it better there. 

As for college majors, I have not found any data, but I assume the number one answer is simply that they prefer something else which is hard to quantify.
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