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Women Rule the World, But Not IT

by Cindi Howson  |  September 30, 2016  |  2 Comments

My head is spinning from the presidential debates to a slew of news on diversity (and lack there of) in IT.

The past year has shown a rise in female leadership in politics around the world: Clinton as the Democratic presidential nominee; Theresa May as prime minister of the U.K.; Renho Murata of Japan’s Democratic party.  And yet in IT, women not only hold fewer leadership positions, they are a declining segment of the technology work force. Worse, the U.S. Department of Labor and Girls Who Code are predicting women will only make up 3% of the IT workforce by 2020. What?!?!

Diversity Is Good for Business

My colleagues Debra Logan and Carol Rozwell recently published a note on Diversity’s Role in an Effective Digital Workplace Program. The note cites various research that shows more diverse teams are more innovative and have a higher return on equity.

And yet the lack of diversity seems to be a self-perpetuating problem. Who wants to be the lone woman at the system’s design table? There are times it can discouraging when I have to shout like the “other guys” to make sure my soft voice is heard among a room of men. As well, mid career and as a new mother, I hated being the only person who had to leave promptly at 5:30 because of childcare. I felt like a slacker. It’s not easy being a minority in any field, and yet, we all need to figure this out, or the challenges will only get worse – for the majority and for the minority.

Today, only 14% of CIOs are female. In the BI and analytics space, the estimate is that women account for about 25% of the workforce. Other technology sectors, such as security, show 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 this a problem beyond political correctness?

The Talent Shortage

CIOs now say that the talent shortage is reaching a crisis portion. The data science field in particular estimates a shortage of 140K to 190K analytically savvy workers by 2018, according to research by McKinsey  A recent survey by CrowdFlower (a data mining crowd sourcing firm) suggests the talent shortage is getting worse, not better.

Improving the diversity in your data team can make your company a more attractive place to work. It means you get the best people of a scarce resource, but it doesn’t fix the industry’s pipeline problem.

Why Now: A Pipeline Problem

Females enrolling in STEM degrees have shown a steady decline over the last 20 years.  African Americans and Hispanics, also minorities in technology, are not pursuing STEM degrees either.  Why is this?  I do think part of the problem is that we don’t introduce high school students to technical fields at a formative age. Most high schools don’t offer technology classes and when they do, the emphasis is often on coding, just a subset of the technology field. I recently spoke at a Girls Who Code club at our local high school. She confessed to me that she hated coding, but thought the way computers could talk to each other was exciting.  Can’t we figure out a way to design curriculum that embraces the full spectrum of information technology without killing interest early on?

It’s an interesting coincidence, too, that many of the successful women I know in IT have undergraduate degrees in liberal arts. I suspect there is an array of skills (critical thinking, listening, communication, negotiating, reasoning, to name a few) emphasized in a liberal arts degree that are essential for careers in technology. We’ve got to fix the curriculum – in high school and in college.  I’m encouraged by the White House’s efforts here.

Mixed Headlines

The industry certainly seems to increasingly care about this matter. I’ve been encouraged that a number of industry events now include the topic of women and diversity in IT. At Microsoft’s Ignite conference this week, I was impressed by the number of network events, panels, and breakouts on this topic. These are important forums for support and for improving everything from equal pay to mentoring to work life balance. Awareness is an important starting point, but judging by recent headlines, we have a long, long way to go:

I’d encourage you to assess how diverse is your own BI and analytics team. What’s the mix at the leadership level? Does it matter?  How would things change – or not – if there were a greater number of women on your team and/or leading?


Cindi Howson


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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 Rule the World, But Not IT

  1. sandy says:


    I just stumbled upon your blog while doing research on BI tools. I am encouraged by your articles on females in the IT industry. Especially those with a non-technical or unfinished degree. I have been in the IT industry for more than 15 years, in all capacities,,,coding, requirements gathering, testing, implementations, etc. I look forward to reading more of your blogs. Thanks.

    Sandy Wilhelm

    • Cindi Howson says:

      Thanks, Sandy! I hope you’ll be able to make it to the Data and Analytics summit in TX where we will have the first Diversity Forum at the summit.

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