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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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.

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.
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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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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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.

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. 

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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.
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.
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.
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.
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