At a time when technology is booming and increasingly pervasive, women are leaving IT. Silicon Valley is routinely blasted by the media for its lack of diversity, but in some respects, how can we blame tech companies if we aren’t graduating a diverse recruiting pool?
Last month at the Gartner BI summit, Tina Nunno, Debra Logan and I cohosted a lunch session on Women in BI. We covered everything from the pay gap, having it all, to the increasing boys’ club that is IT. In this post, I’ll cover the lack of diversity. Look for future blog posts on the other topics!
Last spring, Silicon Valley released their dismal diversity numbers.
|Company||Women in Tech Jobs||Women in Leadership||Women Overall|
Sources: Company web sites and Nick Heer’s blog.
I look at these numbers and while discouraging, they paint a reality that many women in IT have long known. 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? I started my BI career in Switzerland, a male dominant workforce. So frankly, I didn’t realize just how much a minority I was until I returned to the U.S. While women account for 46.9% of the total workforce, we make up an estimated 25% of the IT workforce.
Part of the challenge originates in early education at the high school and college level. The figure at the left shows girls’ declining enrollment in technical fields (Source: NCWIT)
The current boys’ club seems to only perpetuate this decline. One workshop attendee 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.
I applaud efforts from groups like She++, Girls Who Code, and Code.org who are shining a lot on the problem and trying to address it at a younger level. I also look forward to seeing this a just released documentary, Debugging the Gender Gap. 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, 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. Here are some ideas from our workshop on how you personally can help:
- Recognize the importance of diversity and encourage others to do the same. More diverse workforces have higher profitability, better conflict resolution, and higher corporate ethics (see Catalyst for studies).
- 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 organizations 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. Emphasize the job prospects in this field.
Lastly, please add your own ideas below!
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