In 2012, women made up only 26% of the computing workforce, out of 3,816,000 computing-related occupations, and in the same year, only 18% of computer science majors were women.
While these statistics may not come as a huge surprise, that doesn’t make them any easier to swallow, or even understand in this day and age. While the general evolution of women in the workforce took time (consider the fact that women now account for 47% of working adults, compared to just 30% in 1950), clearly the technology industry hasn’t mirrored this proportion. Why is that exactly?
Terry Erdle, Executive Vice President of Skills at CompTIA cites “an element of sexism” holding women back from IT roles, but even more so – a real misperception around the excitement of working in IT, and just how essential it is to organizations running optimally. With a growing number of IT opportunities in areas such as cyber security, network and server management, business continuity, and data analysis, in the last quarter of 2013, there were over 500,000 IT job openings, according to Burning Glass Technologies Labor Insights.
With so much opportunity, it’s encouraging to know that the face of technology is now in fact starting to demonstrate change, and hopefully the aforementioned statistics will begin reflecting that as well. It is becoming more recognized that it’s in the best interest of companies to help women advance in the technology industry, as they offer a fresh perspective on product design, ways of working, risk-taking, and many other important aspects of business.
“The teams with the best results are those comprising of professionals with different attitudes, methods, and backgrounds; those who draw multiple approaches into one unified solution,” stated Pamela Maynard, president for Europe, Africa, and Latin America at IT consultancy Avanade. “There is also a connection between diverse leadership and financial success, as those diverse workforces see their fiscal success increase – there is tangible value to diversifying the enterprise and it is ultimately customers who win.” 3
It all starts with the right education – in and out of the classroom.
While the 2012 statistic about a lack of female computer science majors can sound discouraging, the good news is that this percentage has actually been on the rise, even if slowly (but surely!). Because the opportunities in an IT career are projected to remain immense, it is of great importance that this fact be properly showcased. Essentially, young women need to understand the complete facts and receive support about this career option, to be able to really view it as an opportunity in which they could realistically see themselves succeeding. The broad career possibilities need to be communicated, including not only the more traditional IT roles, but also in other disciplines with a technology impact, such as marketing, legal, sales, and project management.
“We have to do a better job of articulating what a career in IT really entails,” says Erdle. “You can combine your interest in technology with another passion – entertainment, fashion, sports, education, government, retail, and many other industries. IT truly is one of those fields in which people can change the way we live, work, learn, and play.”
There has been a concerted effort being made by governments, education bodies, businesses, and non-governmental organizations to support an increase in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) careers and for women to take leadership in board positions across industries. The work needs to be done at an early age; as girls grow older, they should have the opportunity to listen to technology businesses talk at their schools, and to work as interns at those companies.
In addition to the full education component setting the stage, clearly the mindset, or maybe culture is a better word for it, needs to evolve so that the IT workforce does as well. One way this is happening is hearing real stories from the real women succeeding in IT roles today. A great example is Megan Smith, CTO of United State of America, Google’s Director of Global Entrepreneurship Outreach.
“There is enormous potential to tackle the world’s toughest challenges with women and men working together on solutions, tremendous opportunity to improve our communities and our countries, and together to elevate our global human condition. It requires courage, rolling up our sleeves, and moving outside of our comfort zone and our traditional ways of thinking. Gloria Steinem said, ‘Don’t think about making women fit the world—think about making the world fit women.’ As an industry, we are just at the start of understanding this insight and how we might change and adapt our tech culture to better accommodate so many more innovators.”
As professionals working alongside or within the IT industry, we play a pivotal role in ensuring women continue to progress, and hopefully at a faster rate, in this challenging industry of endless opportunity…not only for their sake, but for the sake of all of the businesses of which we’re a part.
Smith concisely summed up this very sentiment of involvement, “If not now, when? If not us, who? Take action. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”
- Department of Labor Current Population Survey, 2012