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Women Are Leaving IT: Who Cares?

by Cindi Howson  |  May 15, 2015  |  11 Comments

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
Apple 20% 28% 30%
Facebook 15% 23% 31%
Google 17% 21% 30%
Twitter 10% 21% 30%
Yahoo 15% 23% 37%

 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. STEM EnrollmentSo 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 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!


Cindi Howson


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Category: business-intelligence  technology-and-emerging-trends  

Cindi Howson
Research VP
1 years at Gartner
25 years IT Industry

Cindi Howson is a Research Vice President at Gartner, where she focuses on business intelligence (BI) and analytics. Her work includes writing about market trends, vendors and best practices and advising organizations on these subjects. Read Full Bio

Thoughts on Women Are Leaving IT: Who Cares?

  1. Liz says:

    I think you’ve hit right at the heart of the issue. I’ve worked in IT for years, and its a high-stress combative environment even at the best of places. If you don’t code you’re often relegated to operational support teams who are the lowest point in the org hierarchy. It’s unpleasant, stressful, and nobody takes you seriously because your general point of view differs from theirs. When you weigh the costs vs benefits, it often makes sense to seek another field/group/employer.

    If organizations would foster female viewpoints as something other than “fluffy” it would go a long way towards changing the industry. It has to come down from the highest levels of organizational culture that technical women are just as valued as technical men and their ideas are worthwhile.

    As an aside – Making people work in a basement is simply cruel. IT folks get little enough sunlight as it is.

    (Full Disclosure – I recently transferred out of Information Security/Security Operations to a less stressful but still technical role outside of IT.)

  2. Carlie says:

    Great post, Cindi! Let’s not forget about supporting, encouraging, inspiring and being a positive example for the women on our own teams and within our own organizations.

  3. Jelena says:

    Could not agree more – it’s not just about “coding”. There was an article on women in IT in the Glamour magazine and while it was a great initiative, I felt it once again misrepresented diversity of women within IT. You don’t have to be a super-geek coder or UX designer or CIO. If I was at the career decision-making point and thought those were my only option I would’ve looked elsewhere.

  4. Molly says:

    In Spain we just launched Girls in Tech which supports STEM disciplines, not just coding. Although we are an inclusive organisation and stretch to support people working in Design and other tech related areas too.

    It´s important for those of us who work in Tech areas to not give up our feminity and offer good examples to encourage other girls to get involved too.

    I´ve be in Science & Tech environment for over 16 years now and still love my heels!

    Thanks for a great article Cindi

  5. […] Howson recently wrote an illuminating commentary post on Gartner looking at Silicon Valley’s diversity numbers, which frankly speak for […]

  6. Misty says:

    i think you’re leaving out some very important facts. Women leave IT because there is usually a great deal of overtime. Patch management and upgrades are done in the off hours and I always did th at after business hours and on the weekends, all the while still being required to be there during business hours. you can forget about ever seeing your kids if this is your job. This is the main reason IT remains the boys club. Men are just not required to be there for their kids the way women are. All the pay in the world doesn’t make up for never seeing your family.

    • Cindi Howson says:

      These are all important points, Misty, but these same points would apply to a working father. So are we saying that people who work in IT should be childless and with no life? I don’t think so. There are options.

  7. […] figure is about the same as 2015, and may even be lower. Gartner’s data also shows that women occupy only 11.2% of technology leadership roles in […]

  8. […] Howson recently wrote an illuminating commentary post on Gartner looking at Silicon Valley’s diversity numbers, which frankly speak for […]

  9. […] lower numbers of women.  Several Silicon Valley firms now publish their diversity numbers (see last year’s blog), which is raising awareness, but not yet moving the needle for percentage of female workers. Is […]

  10. Hilary simpson says:

    A huge part of this is not getting credit for your work and seeing male colleagues developed and ptomoted over your head – almost assuming you are working for pocket money. Its terribly stressful to be a token woman in an all male tech team – blocking and tackling for all the other women- helping them get flexible hours when they come back from maternity leave. Managing a lot of very odd and rude behaviours e.g. Uber boss. With no support. No wonder women leave.

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