Many of the biggest technology-related companies are reaching out and hoping to snag a few good men... and women. With the Society of Women Engineers preparing to host the NCWIT Summit on Women and IT, leaders in the industry are hoping their strategies bring in more women now and in the coming years.
Why are they trying so hard? According to a recent report from the National Center for Women and Information Technology, "if current trends continue, by 2018 the information technology industry will only be able to fill half of its available jobs." Since 2001, the ratio of women to men majoring in computer science has been dropping significantly. To help avoid a continued, ever-increasing shortage of talent, we must figure out how to persuade more women and members of other diverse groups to choose careers in IT.
Many institutions and think tanks have been collecting a lot of interesting data suggesting that diversity is good for innovation and overall success. Diverse, mixed-gender teams appear to be better problem solvers than single-gender teams. I don’t want to split hairs with anyone about differences between the sexes, and I’m not Camille Paglia. But let’s just say more diversity in thinking due to different backgrounds and experiences creates a certain je ne sais quoi.
So how do the NCWIT and its many friends in the IT industry (like Microsoft, IBM, and Google) propose to convince women to consider a career in technology? One way is with partnerships that create initiatives in corporations and schools all over the country. They start with a big idea: showing more women of all ages how a career in IT can be a good choice and how they can become part of the industry. To achieve this goal, they formed the Pacesetters fast-track program. Its goal is to add 1,000 women to the IT professional ranks this year.
According to Campus Technology, schools and businesses participating in Pacesetters are already reporting progress. The University of Virginia expects its female computing graduates to increase 10 percent to 25 percent. Google says it has doubled its female engineer interns, and the University of California, Santa Cruz says 40 percent more women are majoring in computer science.
It’s obvious that lots of emphasis is placed on how to get women into technology from the high school and college levels, but what about retaining the women code warriors already in IT? This is just as important, if not more so. I personally know three women who abandoned IT after their Y2K work and went on to very different careers. I suspect it was because of burnout, frustration, or both.
But technology has changed dramatically in the past 20 years. So have work environments -- for the better, I believe. IT is a great place for anyone to start or revive a career, including women. The benefits can be very attractive: more flexibility, transferrable skills that are in demand, and higher salaries than most other careers requiring a bachelor’s degree. And lastly, with the growing importance of technology in our daily lives, this profession offers more prestige and even a chance to make a difference in the world.