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Technology: Where have all the women gone?

By Kathi Kellenberger,

Steve Jones recently sent me a link to this article "The Vanishing IT Woman--System i Women Respond" and wondered what I thought about it.  The article was written in response to recent research showing an alarming decrease in the number of women in information technology careers.

I have to admit that I am not a big proponent of having a certain number of women working in any particular field. I believe that anyone with the talent and desire to work in technology should be encouraged to do so, regardless of gender. But a quote in the article from Nate Viall of Nate Viall & Associates, a recruiting and industry research firm, really made me sit up and take notice: “in the late 1990s, women made up 40 percent of application developers with less than three years of experience. Today, that number is 10 percent.” Viall also mentioned a surprising decline in female computer science majors during the same time period. I think that 40 percent sounds curiously high.  I suspect that some people were recruited into programming during the Y2K and dot com boom days who really didn’t belong there.  But maybe there is something to this; maybe women who have the necessary talent are choosing other careers, and IT is the worse off for it.

The article considers many possible reasons for this trend. For example, family responsibilities and work/life balance may play a big role in keeping women from considering IT or leaving IT once they are there.  Long hours spent at work during project crunch times can take its toll on family life.  My previous career was much more family friendly than the DBA job I have now.  In fact, that field, pharmacy has seen the number of women increase substantially over the past 25 years or so in the US. Other fields, such as dentistry and law may also be more attractive to women than IT.

In my opinion, interest in computers at the high school and college levels is just not there. Many of the current students have grown up with computers in their homes and in the classroom.  I haven’t done a study, of course, but most of the kids I talk to think of computers as a tool, and they aren’t interested in learning how computers work or in making a career focused on them. I think of my car that way.  I don’t care how it works and don’t want to be a mechanic or a race car driver.  I just want my car to get me where I need to go. There also seems to be a real fear of being labeled a "nerd" or "geek," especially by the girls.  Television and movies encourage these sterotypes.

I think that men will probably always outnumber women in IT, and I don’t really believe that is necessarily bad. Should we be concerned about numbers?  I’m not really sure, and, personally, I don’t care about the numbers. I would like to see children exposed to programming during the middle-school and high school years so that those boys and girls with the innate talent will think about choosing technology careers. The most important things to me is that anyone who wants to work in IT should have that opportunity.

Kathi Kellenberger

Total article views: 139 | Views in the last 30 days: 1
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