Why Are There So Few Women In IT?

by drjim on February 12, 2009

Why Don't More Women Enter The IT Field?

Why Don’t More Women Enter The IT Field?

Oh, oh – this is the kind of blog posting that can cause all sorts of folks to get angry. Before you build up a big head of steam and get ready to fire off an angry “women are just as capable as men” letter to me, wait just a minute. The question that we’re tacking here isn’t if women are better than men at IT, but rather why are there so many more men in IT departments?

With no scientific backing what so ever, I think that a lot of us have made up our own reasons why staff meetings and all hands gatherings sure seem more like a frat party than a balanced gathering of equal numbers of both genders. Some of the made up reasons for this include guessing that women have less interest in “hard” science that makes up parts of IT, women’s educational experience makes them not want to go into IT, or that women are just not comfortable working in the male environment that is today’s IT department.

As an IT Leader who wants to manage a balanced team of both men and women (the world is, after all, made up of roughly 50 / 50 of both), understanding why you don’t have more women on your team is a critical issue that you need to resolve.

Vicki McKinney is an organizational consultant who, along with a number of academic researchers, conducted a study of 815 IT workers back in 2003. They published their results in the Communications of the ACM and what they uncovered was quite interesting.

The first set of questions that they asked tried to answer why a man or a woman would enter the IT field in the first place. It turns out that men were more likely than women to cite “love of technology / computers” as their motive. Women cited “job security”, “ease of entry”, and “flexible work hours” as their motivators for entering IT. What this means to an IT Leader is that men are more driven by factors in an IT job itself. Women are more motivated by factors around the job. This is key knowledge when you are trying to motivate a team.

Another question that was asked dealt with role models. The ability to socialize is critical to advancing one’s IT career and role models can help greatly with this. The surprising answer that came back from the survey was that both men and women had a similar level of experience with role models. What this means is that women have had no problems finding men to act as their role models in IT.

You’re going to like the next set of questions that were asked. This batch was designed to discover if there are any gender related differences in a variety of work-related experiences. What’s interesting is that the answer is YES. Specifically, women reported that their supervisors provided them with greater support in the meeting of their career goals and improving their job performance.

The final set of survey questions centered on career satisfaction. The result of asking these questions was that the researchers found no significant differences between men and women’s level of satisfaction with their IT careers.

So what’s an IT Leader to make of all of this information? Basically two things can be learned. Once in IT, women seem to be just as happy and driven as men. They may have come to IT for different reasons, but once there they share many of the same experiences. However, IT has had and continues to have what the researchers call “an input problem”: too few girls are being attracted to IT as a career path.

If IT Leaders want tomorrow’s IT department to be gender balanced, then more work needs to be done to improve young girls’ knowledge of computer careers as well as making them aware of computer related education. We all need to play a role in getting the message out…!

Do you feel that your department is gender balanced? Do you feel that women have as good of an IT career as men? Do women in your department have a better relationship with their supervisors than men do? Leave me a comment and let me know what you are thinking.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Anon February 16, 2009 at 10:52 pm

Those are price-of-entry items that don’t apply as strongly to men. Imagine a single mom techie geek who has a passion for her work. Why would she want flex time? Because she can’t do the 18 hour shifts a single guy can even if she wants to. One kid’s sick and the other is the lead in the school play and she needs to be there. If she’s married, what are the odds it’s to a guy geek who’s pulling 18 hour days because she can cover the doctor visit and the Christmas pageant?

Job security? If she has a job she’ll want to keep it rather than end up in a job market that can hardly imagine technically savvy women. The industry expends a lot of effort in trying to convince one another that women just aren’t technical, so when an applicant shows up female to a job interview, she’s off on the wrong foot to start with. Hiring managers can’t ask a women’s family plans any more, but they can certainly guess at the demographic likelihood of an applicant needing family leave and decide that she’s “not quite what we’re looking for.” Who wouldn’t want job security if they faced that? And ease of entry? No matter how much a woman enjoys the work, she has to get through the door first.

Once the basics are in place – a woman has a tech job that doesn’t drag her away from her family – and she works with people who can accept and collaborate with her, then she’s free to love technical work. I do and know a lot of other women who do. But first things first.

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