Careers in IT: Women Please Apply

Birgit Nazarian, Writer, specializing in IT and HR | 2/15/2012 | 27 comments

Birgit Nazarian
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.

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PamR   Careers in IT: Women Please Apply   2/15/2012 11:25:58 AM
Start in the Lower Grades
As long as kids who are into technology are seen as a little weird, there's a problem.

I distinctly recall reading the riot act to my daughter's little circle of friends who were busy mocking another kid in middle school, where wearing the wrong color shirt can get you ostracized. The target of the mocking was a girl who spent her lunch hour reading algebra books, for fun. My riot act reading included mentioning that they'd all probably be working for that girl some day because she'd be running her own company and making millions. But if schools could improve that perception of kids who are doing something different, stopping doing "signing days" only for athletes and make math and science cool, that would go a long way to drawing in more girls. And more boys, too, I'd think.
David Wagner   Careers in IT: Women Please Apply   2/15/2012 12:50:25 PM
Re: Start in the Lower Grades
I remember reading a book (I'm trying to figure out which one) that showed that there was noticeable and positive change for companies even with 30-70 female-male ratios in leadership positions.

The discussion in the book was mostly about boards of directors and C-suites, but i think the same thing can be said of IT. 30% (or even better, 50%) participation brings in the kind of talent, perspective, varied backgrounds, different mind sets etc to solve problems better.

I believe it, because there is a very simple equation at work. If only half your population is involved in any decision being made, it means half your brain power is going to waste.

DBK   Careers in IT: Women Please Apply   2/15/2012 1:03:17 PM
Re: Start in the Lower Grades
Simply good timing I saw a post from one of my LinkedIn buddies.  The post was that she was attending the women 2.0 conference and had never seen so many women at a technology conference.  I have also read that a current trend is that women are continuing on for higher education and the trend for men is declining.
Sara Peters   Careers in IT: Women Please Apply   2/15/2012 2:08:05 PM
Re: Start in the Lower Grades
@PamR  I agree with you. Lately I've been hearing from more people that IT careers are getting to be cool with the kids today... but for some reason I'm not buying it. And I'm not sure quite how to change it. Maybe we need more people like you reading the riot act to the kids picking on the "math nerds" and ceasing to think of them as math nerds at all.
bnazarian   Careers in IT: Women Please Apply   2/15/2012 6:05:32 PM
Re: Start in the Lower Grades
@PamR so true! Last summer my daugther got an invitation into advanced algebra pre-calculus when she left 6th grade. I was bursting with joy (you know because she wasn't going to be the math dud her mom was). The downside was that she and a couple dozen other kids selected had to spend several hours two weeks before school started in the classroom for a primer.

Convincing her to accept her fate as a brainiac was tough. There was whining, there was crying and begging and moaning at the prospect of having to spend her time in a stifling classroom when she could be at the pool and hanging out with friends. She thought the advanced math class was not where she should be. I called the school and found out a few of her friends had been also accepted. Not only did she go without complaining, she seemed to have a pretty good time - even though after 4 hours a day they also brought home more homework! 

So, she still moans about how rotten she is in math while bringing home "A's" in the subject. I hope she breaks the stereotypes of what a math geek looks and acts like. I keep talking about how cool it is to be smart and hope I can keep her engaged in it. Everytime I mention programming though she says "NO!" Oh...I'll figure out a way to hook her...I will.  
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Susan Fourtané   Careers in IT: Women Please Apply   2/16/2012 12:05:54 PM
Re: Start in the Lower Grades
"I keep talking about how cool it is to be smart and hope I can keep her engaged in it."

Lovely, Birgit! :) You can also tell her that you know lots of people (me) who think being smart is really cool. The cool factor is always important. 

-Susan 
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CurtisFranklin   Careers in IT: Women Please Apply   2/15/2012 9:21:48 PM
Re: Start in the Lower Grades
@PamR, we've been working for years (decades?) to help students understand that scientific achievement is as valid, wonderful and "cool" as athletic achievement. We've made progress,  but we haven't really succeeded, yet.

The Apollo program provided considerable cachet for scientists, as did the early days of the microcomputer revolution. We don't have either of those acting on society any more, and haven't found anything to replace them.
David Wagner   Careers in IT: Women Please Apply   2/15/2012 9:55:46 PM
Re: Start in the Lower Grades
I was recently watching a documentary about the Scopes monkey trial. During the trial Clarence Darrow spend hours crushing William Jennings Bryant, the leading religious figure in America at the time, on the witness stand. He basically obliterates any sense that a perfect literal interpretation of the bible connects with the scientifc reality of the planet.

At the time, the scientific community, assumed that it was such a great victory for science that no one could possibly continue to deny evolution. While the trial was considered a victory for evolution, in reality the exact opposite happened in AMerica. More states passed anti-evolution laws. Evolution which had previously been taught in many schools without question disappeared. The Religious Right as we know it took hold throughout much of the south and midwest.

For 75 years or more, we've been fighting the anti-science feelings that have come from Darrow's drubbing of "poor religion."

It is hard enough to make ANYONE like science in the face of religious opposition, much less girls who have to also fight other social stereotypes.

I might actually say that it might actually be easier to catch kids, especially girls later in their lives when they are more capable of thinking for themselves rather than reaching them younger.
bnazarian   Careers in IT: Women Please Apply   2/16/2012 2:17:24 PM
Re: Start in the Lower Grades
@Curtis, yes, scientists that worked on NASA projects, astronauts and the like enjoyed quite the "cool" factor when I was in grade school and upwards. In the 90's it was Internet slowly growing in popularity, so there was a kind of "cyberpunk" cool factor about being in IT. Hackers and their exploits began showing up in television news reports, in movies, etc. creating both awe and horror at the damage they were capable of doing with keystrokes.

Now that communication and many parts of our daily lives are connected to the Internet I think that cyber security is one of those "cool" areas to work, one that doesn't rely on brawn and physical power to protect millions of users from bad guys. It's funny, 12 years ago or so I was eating lunch with some friends tossing out an idea for a television drama that revolved around an elite group of white hat hackers that would be called in by governments and law enforcement agencies to save the day in various scenarios. I thought it would be a really cool premise. Now on the cop shows many of them feature a super techie dude or dudette that uses their preternatural analytical skills and tech gadgets to give the detectives an edge to bust drug cartels and stop serial killers.   
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Umair Ahmed   Careers in IT: Women Please Apply   2/15/2012 4:04:17 PM
Stereotype Threat

Career selections are mostly biased by myths & stereotypes (family, friends and teachers all plays the big role in it). And the stereotypes about science, technology & engineering discourage the women from choosing a career in technical field.  To attract more females to IT we really need fight the phrase:

"Oh how women do fuss! No application, No concentration. That's why no women have ever been great artists or scientists." from the character Prof. Henry Corrie, British Novel 'The Progress'

bnazarian   Careers in IT: Women Please Apply   2/15/2012 5:49:10 PM
Re: Stereotype Threat
@Umair Ahmed, when we think about it, it really has been only a short time that women in some parts of the world even have been encouraged to seek careers in professions other than the standard nurse, teacher, care giver, etc. Considering all that there is so much ingrained tradition still to confront. Even in my generation, very few teachers insisted I work very hard in math and science.

Most of my friends agreed math was hard and we avoided it. Most students didn't get anywhere near computers for another 3-4 years. Desk top PCs were a new thing by the time I was in university so my first time using one was after I graduated at my first job. It was a little too late for me to do anything but try learning on my own which I did. 

With all the great resources available no one has to struggle that way now. If anyone has an interest in this field there are so many ways to go about gaining knowledge and a number of ways to gain experience such as participating in open source projects. It's really a matter of letting people know what's out there and what they can do with it. 
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David Wagner   Careers in IT: Women Please Apply   2/15/2012 10:50:58 PM
Working Environment
One of the things I've often wondered about is why women would want to work in the average IT department. They're not the stereotype of the garage with the nude pinups on the wall, but most IT shops I've been in have been grungy, disorganized messes that resemble college dorms.

Now, i'm not prescribing to the stereotype that all women are neat and tidy and men are slobs, but the fact that the avaerage IT shop looks like a bachelor pad can't really help.
kicheko   Careers in IT: Women Please Apply   2/16/2012 7:36:15 AM
Re: Working Environment
David - Interesting, so it is the same the world over. There is something about IT shops....something bachelor and something hustler about them. It is discouraging i can tell you from personal experience. Top that up with the scarcity of women in that field, and you could find yourself as the only lady in a room with about 30 hustler-like looking men sunken in lines of code. Doesn't help in trying to market the profession to other ladies.
Steel2179   Careers in IT: Women Please Apply   2/18/2012 7:28:28 PM
Re: Working Environment
Good point.  I think that it is important that you feel like you are working on team....that everyone is advancing toward a bigger goal.  It is a lot to drop a young woman into that environment and ask her to not only contribute, but make her own place on the team.  So much of what we do professionally is connected to what we do socially.  I think mentoring and programming help young women navigate professionally down the road.
bnazarian   Careers in IT: Women Please Apply   2/16/2012 2:30:59 PM
Re: Working Environment
@David, at risk of publically humiliating myself I will explain that when I was a 20-something trying to find a way into IT I didn't really care what the place I worked in was like, in fact, if I got a chance to hang out in the dungeons (which was what some of the big corporate IT departments reminded me of) I felt truly honored. Usually our programmers if they had business with me came up to my ugly little cubicle. My space in marketing or engineering might have had more light up there but standard corporate issue cubicles are not fit for Home & Garden or a decorating magazine spread either.

Once I hit the jackpot and got hired as an assistant in the R&D department in a software development company --a true den of coolness, I felt totally at home. More than a few of us women in this female run company dressed down in black jeans, white t-shirts and black leather granny boots like we were Angelina Jolie. And yes we thought we were cool. :-D  
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David Wagner   Careers in IT: Women Please Apply   2/16/2012 5:03:37 PM
Re: Working Environment
@bnazarian- Sounds awesome. There is a subtle but important difference between a place with character and a place that is unliveable by normal human standards. I've seen both.
WaqasAltaf   Careers in IT: Women Please Apply   2/19/2012 9:43:48 AM
Re: Working Environment
@Birgit

Reading discussion about cool and comfortable environment to work at, I thought what else would be cooler than to work at home. What is trendy in many industries esp. IT, is that home computing concept is widely spreading. Something for the housewives to consider. Also young high school girls, who eye themselves ending up housewives (by choice) and simultaneously also want to make a career in something with nice perks, should consider IT as an ideal career. With expected shortages being predicted, this can be another motivator for them as pay scales would tend to be reasonable if not high in the times to come. 
impactnow   Careers in IT: Women Please Apply   2/16/2012 1:13:58 PM
IT and Women

I agree that Tech offers women great opportunities but it is still sad to the lack of women choosing IT careers. While some stereotypical IT shops still exist those stereo types exist in every profession, I think it may simply be an education variable not many women understand the benefits of an It profession because it's stereotyped toward men.

impactnow   Careers in IT: Women Please Apply   2/17/2012 10:29:50 AM
IT is cool

Birgit I think there is a very cool factor in IT but unfortunately so many women are still being stereotyped into traditional female career or males into traditional male careers. I think if more women understood IT would be more interesting to them as they seek out careers.

bnazarian   Careers in IT: Women Please Apply   2/17/2012 11:37:09 AM
Re: IT is cool
@impactnow, it's getting better. I think the solution is make women feel more welcome and women should not shy away from doing what they really love to do. But I admit it's hard on both counts.

When I was trying to learn programming I had a group of friends already working in IT, plus people in the IT department where I worked and classmates in my programming class. I picked everyone's brain. There were guy friends in IT who were perfectly nice to me before I started taking a programming class and then as soon as I asked more intelligent questions of them, a couple of them insinuated I wouldn't make it through the class without help from male classmates.

I had male classmates offer to do my homework for me. I know it was painful for them to see me struggle but I was proud I did it all by myself. At work and other friends in IT were wonderful. They encouraged my learning, gave me resources, quizzed me for my upcoming tests and eventually I got invited to help out on projects and do more programming work at work.

Definitely I felt that for some men it was a problem for me to move into IT and a few women even too. That didn't dissuade me from pushing myself. I had a supportive boss and enough consultants encouraging me to keep going but another reason I think women at least in the 90's were less likely to stay in IT was the family thing.

Once I had kids, I couldn't tool around with Linux or stay late to learn Java programming. I was very excited how far I had come, but I was exhausted and drained. Now I kind of regret having dropped out, but it was nearly impossible for me to continue learning and advancing when I had babies and small kids. Some women make it work, I couldn't. Maybe if I could have telecommuted with today's technology part fo the time though, I might have been able to stay where I was. For that reason, I think it's better than ever before for women.  
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singlemud   Careers in IT: Women Please Apply   2/20/2012 3:09:49 PM
Re: IT is cool
Great point. IT world changes so fast. Most IT guys have to learn the new technology every day, and work late to debug code.  It will be hard for women who are tied much more to home and feed the baby.
bnazarian   Careers in IT: Women Please Apply   2/21/2012 9:44:58 AM
Re: IT is cool
@singlemud, I want to point out though that it's really just a short time in a woman's life where it's more difficult because of raising kids. Once kids are school age (age 5 or 6) there is more time to devote to work. Whether it's work from home or in an office setting. So no one should give up or be discouraged if they decide to have children. I know a lot of career women who share the child rearing with husbands who stay home part time or telecommute. It's a little hectic at times but doable especially as easy as it is now to communicate with management and other team members no matter where you are. 
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singlemud   Careers in IT: Women Please Apply   2/21/2012 10:00:23 AM
Re: IT is cool
@bnazarian, that is very true. Another problem is that when kids come to the school age,  There will be other hectic jump in, such as after school activities, driving the kids around, or school volunteers.  usually, some one in a household should have a easy and flexiable job.
bnazarian   Careers in IT: Women Please Apply   2/21/2012 10:20:34 AM
Re: IT is cool
@singlemud, I agree that works best, which I why I really hope that enterprises who aren't already enlightened accept reality and give employees at least flexible hours and the option to telecommute some days. It's not going to hinder productivity, it can only help I think. IT is a great place to be, it's where I'd be and maybe where I will go in the future. So many good things about it. 
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Syerita Turner   Careers in IT: Women Please Apply   2/22/2012 8:21:29 PM
Careers in IT: Women Please Apply
I thoroughly enjoyed this post. I once was a woman in IT. I obtained my Bachelor of IT degree and quickly went into the wonderful male world of IT. Just to find out that I was not cut out for the job as my personality couldn't cut it. What I mean by that is that I was too nice and not bitchy as most women in IT that I encountered were. I felt as though I had to change how I was and work twice as hard to prove myself one because I am a woman and two because I am a minority woman who is smart and talented. 

I say that to say it is very important for women to go into IT and I hope more women take that step. However, the world will never be ready for women to come into male dominated fields and take over because that is what really happens when us women focus on such a tedious and hard career goal. We take the bull by the ears and surpass all of whoever was working there and quickly become the enemy. I think that a shift in mindset will need to happen before women of my caliber and expertise decide to go for more satisfying and less stessful careers. 

I hope the men don't jump on me for this one but I had to tell it like it is. 

 

 
impactnow   Careers in IT: Women Please Apply   2/23/2012 9:52:22 AM
Re: IT is cool

Birgit I agree that it is hard at times for women to be accepted in IT I became my IT based marketing career in the 90s as well and it is very different today. I think you have to be somewhat tenacious to succeed in any career that is primarily a mainstay of men but it can be done. I think t that having young children is difficult in many professions it is very rewarding but also very draining, especially in today's society where families are separated an there is not a grandma or aunt to help out. I think if companies offered women with young families more flexible work arrangements it would benefit them long term and short term.

mejiac   Careers in IT: Women Please Apply   2/29/2012 4:23:53 PM
Woman in IT
Very Interesting Article.

It's funny... for my past jobs my bosses have all been woman, very talented and very professional, so it goes to show that I think one reason for the lack of participation on the womans side is perception.

Many woman are driven away from an IT career either by social pressure (in my mind at least, since most of us are geeks at heart) or by not knowing the huge benefits surrounding an IT degree.

I do agree that having a diversed environment does create sinergy, does providing more robust solutions.

I think educational institutions should focus on better marketting IT careers, showing more focus on the benefits side, and the fact that most young entreprenours belong to the IT world.


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8|29|13   |   2:11   |   23 comments


Most of the CIOs interviewed in the How to Become a CIO series did not start their careers as IT professionals. So is an IT background essential?
Ivan Schneider
The Internet Loves Birthdays

8|27|13   |   3:25   |   69 comments


The Internet has evolved into a machine for drumming up a chorus of "Happy Birthday" messages, from family, friends, friends of friends who you added on Facebook, random people that you circled on G+, and increasingly, automated bots. Enough already.