INSIGHT: Women are leaving IT… But who cares?

At a time when technology is booming and increasingly pervasive, women are leaving IT...

At a time when technology is booming and increasingly pervasive, women are leaving IT with Silicon Valley routinely blasted by the media for its lack of diversity.

“But in some respects,” speculates Cindi Howson, Research VP, Gartner, “How can we blame tech companies if we aren’t graduating a diverse recruiting pool?

Last autumn, Silicon Valley released their dismal diversity numbers.

“I look at these numbers and while discouraging, they paint a reality that many women in IT have long known,” Howson adds. “We are a minority. Often we are the only woman at the table.

“And isn’t it great that at tech conferences, there’s never a line for the ladies room?”

Starting her BI career in Switzerland, Howson began her career path in a male dominant workforce.

“So frankly, I didn’t realise just how much a minority I was until I returned to the US,” she adds. “While women account for 46.9% of the total workforce, we make up an estimated 25% of the IT workforce.”

For Howson, part of the challenge originates in early education at the high school and college level.

“The current boys’ club seems to only perpetuate this decline,” Howson claims. “One workshop attendee I spoke to described her company’s recruiting day. “We invited female prospects from the high school.

“But IT was housed in the basement. Who wants to work there?” Another person described the ridicule that girl geeks face in the classroom, so they exit the field even before they’ve started.”

Howson applauds efforts from groups like She++, Girls Who Code, and who are shining a lot on the problem and trying to address it at a younger level.

“I also look forward to seeing a just released documentary, Debugging the Gender Gap,” she adds.

“At the same time, I worry that we are focusing too much on the coding aspect of technology. There are system engineers, architects, and BI analysts who never code.

“Can’t we come up with a broader, more inclusive slogan like Tech Savvy Girls?”

While lack of diversity is a problem, Howson believes the trend for women leaving IT is more worrying.

“I’ve been in this space for twenty years, but in the last two years, it seems to me that there is more serious momentum to get at the heart of the problem, and from multiple fronts,” she adds.

Looking forward, Howson offers some ideas from on how IT professionals personally can help:

• Recognise the importance of diversity and encourage others to do the same. More diverse workforces have higher profitability, better conflict resolution, and higher corporate ethics.

• If you’re a male co-worker, boss, or father, get on board. Women may be more comfortable talking about these issues, but it takes the men to help solve the problem.

• Female leaders in technology have to mentor the younger workforce. Look for volunteer opportunities at your area high school, college, or any of the organisations mentioned earlier.

• Apply some glamour to the work environment; if your IT department is shoved away in a dreary basement, spruce it up, brighten it up, and everyone benefits.

• Remember and remind: it’s all about the jobs. The technology sector is hiring, and in the U.S., technology companies complain there are not enough quality graduates. Emphasise the job prospects in this field.

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