That is the question I have been mulling over since I was forwarded two articles on Women in IT: "Why the Number of Women in IT is Decreasing" and "The Vanishing IT Woman - System i Women Respond". As the titles suggest, these articles discuss the fact that the number of women choosing to study computer related courses in college or university is decreasing at a much higher proportion than males and the fact that many women are leaving the IT field. They outline why these trends are developing, the dangers of these trends continuing and talk about ways the trends can be diverted.
There was much talk about males and females having different skill sets that are both needed in IT… Well, I can't say that I have found it to be true! I don't give much credence to the 'women are better listeners, analysts and relationship builders' and 'men are better at complex mental visualization and abstract thought' argument. I think that a successful IT team is comprised of individuals with different, complementary skill sets, personalities and motivations, be they men or women.
I don't believe that skills sets or personality types are stereotypically male or female, but I do think that in many cases what motivates men and women is often different. Recent changes in the IT industry might have made it less appealing to women and these changes may be why more women are leaving IT and young women are deciding not to pursue an IT career.
The IT industry has changed dramatically in the last 10 years. Since the crash of the tech market, IT has been hit with lay-offs, downsizing, increased competition for fewer jobs, fewer high paying jobs, slashes to training budgets and out-sourcing. There are less motivators for both males and females to enter or stay in the tech market, but possibly a few less motivators for females. Women are often the primary caregivers in a family with conflicting priorities, especially when they have young children. I feel that most women are looking for, among other things, a flexible, fairly secure and stable environment to work in.
Now back to my original question: "Would I encourage my daughter to pursue a career in IT?" My initial response was "no" which left me with another question: Why did I say "no"? I have been extremely happy and successful with my career in IT and am now in the enviable position of having several career opportunities available to me. I have never encountered problems relating to the fact that I was female and I have never thought that the fact I was a female would hinder me in any way in achieving whatever goal I set for myself. My career also gave my financial independence at a young age.
After thinking about it for a while longer, I changed my answer to "yes" thinking that the pros of an IT career might still outweigh the cons for both males and females. I think I would recommend it, provided that my daughter had the aptitude and characteristics that I think would improve her chances of balancing a successful IT career and happy family life. Some of the key characteristics I would be looking for would be confidence, adaptability, the ability to learn quickly and good organizational skills.
From an employer's perspective, if they want to attract and retain more females in IT, they should make the work environment more flexible, stable and family friendly.
Would you encourage your daughter to pursue an IT career? Have you noticed a drop in the number of women in IT? Do you think doing something about the declining number of women is IT is important? What can employers and educators do to attract more women into IT?