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.
Aunt KathiLinchpin People TeammateSQL Server MVPAuthor of Expert T-SQL Window Functions
Perhaps it's a genetic thing. Perhaps the slightly soul-less nature of IT is off-putting for many women.
Many women seem more comfortable in HR, teaching or marketing than men; with men happier in IT and accounting.
Could it just be as simple as the Mars/Venus deal - women being attracted by people professions and men being drawn to machines and numbers and cold hard facts?
I'll get my coat.
Nice comments Kathi!
I work with a female programmer who is married...she thinks of herself as having many traits more commonly found in men, such as an obsession with computer games, etc. But she still very different from men who program. She insists on spending at least 15 to 30 minutes a day talking...just about anything. She told me that, otherwise, programming is just too dehumanizing and technologically-overfocused. This focus, which is a male trait, is something that doesn't bother me, but I enjoy the talks. It helps me relax and "be myself" for a change.
We studied the trend of women in IT back in the 80s when I was in college, and the prediction was that by the year 2004, there would be 20-30% women in the field (it was 5% at the time). I think the actual percentage in 2007 (in America) is between 10% and 15%...this is progress and we should welcome it.
Men invented computers, programming languages, and set up the IT departments (dysfunctional as they may be) that employ computer programmers. It is not unsurprising that women feel unwelcome and out of place in these environments. Even the woman who manages the network engineering dept. where I work tends to be unusually focused and logical. I think the industry draws these kinds of people to it. As I grow older and become more well rounded as a human being, I find myself increasingly out of place with the people around me. I have been told that IT values computer professionals who have people skills and are team players, and they do. But such people in IT are rare. People with such skills stay away from IT like it was the plague...they don't like working with people who lack the normal human graces.
I have a teenage son and a lot of my friends have teenage children ready to go to college, 9 out of 10 will not take computer science as major. In 1995, I remembered a lot of students majoring in computer science. I can think of two reasons why today kids do no not want to major in computer science.
First, the parents discourage them. In year 2000 after the dot.com burst, most of the computer technical people lost their jobs. Some even had to change career. A lot big companies start outsourcing computer work to other countries. So most the parents advise kids to take biochemical, pharmacy, biology or any other medical fields. They think it has more future and at least those fields cannot outsource to other country. When you are sick, you definitely will not fly to India to see a doctor, will you?
Second, my son is 11 grade. He is taking JAVA programming at school. He wrote all his papers using microsoft word at 6th grade. He learnt microsoft office, photoshop, macromedia, built his web website all on his own. Recently he built his own computer. So he said he would not major in computer science in college, it is his hobby. He wants to major something more "challenging". Most of his friends already know how to program in C#, Java, web programming without going to college. My son joined the robotic team, the kids already knew how to write C program to make the robot to work. Why bothers to major in computer sience ? Just liked my son, they all want to major in more challenging fields - becoming a doctor, majoring in chemical engineering, EE, stem cell research.....As they say, those fields bring a brighter future.
My 2 cents.
I disagree 100 percent that IT is a turn off to women because of "genetics". I know MANY successful woman from chemists to CPAs. Comments like that are truly ignorant.
I think one of the biggest challenges I've faced as a woman working in IT is finding a company that understands the need for balance between work and home. I'll work the extra hours when the need arises (and I have enough experience to know when it really is necessary) otherwise when the work day is done I have family needs to fulfill. Of all the DBA jobs I've had the best ones have been those with flexible work hours and bosses that understand what family is.
Well I am not tired of having this discussion and since I know my perspective and opinions on the subject has changed a lot throughout my career I think it is important to keep the discussion going......
But that aside... Great editorial Kathy! You bring up a lot of great points.
I agree that "family responsibilities and