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?
I don't have any kids, which could make me more objective or less relevant. Anyway, my view from living in England is...
The recommendation I make to friend's teenage children is that IT is a good place to be, but if you want a career doing IT then look more at the hardware side than software. Better still if you plan on going up the management path, look on IT as a stage to get skills and experience before moving on.
Although there will always be highly-paid niche markets for various software skills in developed counties, I think the trend to move software development and administration to lower-cost economies will increase in the years ahead. This means that trying to make a career in software in developed countries will be harder and less lucrative than it used to be. On the other hand, fixing boxes has to be done where the box physically sits, and the developed world will continue to have boxes.
Maybe the reason less women are entering IT is they feel there are more rewarding choices elsewhere.
Finally, I recommend to any teenager that the best way to make serious money is to be an entrepreneur. If you develop a mindset that can look at a situation and work out how to make a turn, you are likely to end up either seriously wealthy or bankrupt. If you do well, then the wealth you generate moves the economy forward and keeps the likes of me in a job.
I don't know if this has been addressed in the many posts on this topic, but the topic of outsourcing raises an interesting question. Are women leaving IT, or are the jobs women are more likely to have leaving IT?
Good and thoughtful article, Lynda.
Unfortunately, I'm going to have to say that I'm not recommending anyone get into the IT field unless they enjoy roller coaster rides with their careers. As I speak with older IT professionals, it seems that the last round of instabilities, though severe, aren't all that unusual for this field.
The problem is that computers are like automatic dishwashers. During a good economy, not only do you buy a dishwasher, but you get a nice one made out of stainless steel. In a bad economy, if you don't have a dishwasher, or if your dishwasher breaks, you wash the dishes by hand.
Because of this factor, we always experience downcycles that are worse than the general economy. When it's time to tighten belts, "Dilbert pointy-haired managers" always look to those "geeks in IT" as a source of cuts. The last cycle was made even worse by the fact that someone figured out how to effectively run wires overseas. I have friends who, even in this booming economy have to constantly look over their shoulder - hence Lynda's note that it's not just jobs; it's good paying jobs that are wandering off.
If you're lucky enough to have a job in IT, find ways to make yourself one of the people that will be kept around during the next down-cycle, which is inevitable.
The question that was posed was: "Would you encourage your daughter to pursue an IT career?"
Long hours, working holidays and weekends, outsourcing, layoffs...
When I am asked, I always discourage young people from considering IT as a promising career.
Does anyone really feel that IT has a promising future as a career field? Be honest!