IT Employment

Want the right techie for the job? Employ more women

Attempts to get more women to work in IT are in the long-term interest of the industry and should be supported.

Recently I've been writing about the lack of women working in IT, and I've come up against an argument in favour of the status quo which runs something like 'I don't care if it's a man or a woman, businesses need the right person for the job'.

It's a statement I wholeheartedly agree with. But I don't think it's a sound argument against making it easier for women to succeed in the IT industry. In fact I think it's a case for a better balance of sexes in the profession - because how do you know you have got the right person for the job if close to half of the working population aren't applying in the first place?

Recent research found that only around one in 10 CIOs is a woman and about three quarters of IT managers are male.

If you are comfortable that those figures are a reflection of business finding the right person for the job then you are effectively saying women don't have what it takes to succeed in IT.

While some researchers have found that girls tend to favour languages, arts and social studies over maths and science from age 12, there's no evidence to suggest that women are not suited to a career in tech.

The key is understanding what's being asked here - it's not a demand for women to be parachuted into jobs they are unqualified for. It's asking for an examination of our schooling systems and workplaces to see if there are ways that could encourage more women to choose a career in IT.

This is about providing more opportunities and stamping out inequalities, not swapping favouritism towards one group for another.

If you want to make sure that businesses are getting the right people for the job then why not try and root out inherent biases in our schools and offices?

Do you really think that business always picks the right people for the job at the moment? Isn't it worth examining whether IT, as a profession that has been largely male-dominated since its inception, has institutionalised practices that favour the men who make up the bulk of its workforce?

There are those that argue that pursuing gender equality is a distraction at at a time when countries should be focusing on getting their economy off the rocks. A reader emailed me after about a gender equality article to say: "Isn't the UK in another recession right now? See any correlation with policies you're pushing". But this argument only holds water if you believe that bringing women into the workforce will deliver no net benefit - a position that seems difficult to justify.

Of course, there is also the question of how many IT roles there are to go around in Western countries at a time when many entry-level positions are routinely carried out offshore. This is a genuine issue, but not a reason to ignore the gender imbalance.

Encouraging more women to enter the profession doesn't require anything as drastic or counterproductive as quotas. It can be as simple as better publicising successful women in IT or after-school clubs like e-skills UK's Computer Clubs for Girls.

Trying to ensure that both sexes get a far chance to get ahead in IT isn't about forcing people out of jobs they were born to do, it's about giving people opportunities to fulfil their potential whatever their gender.

About

Nick Heath is chief reporter for TechRepublic UK. He writes about the technology that IT-decision makers need to know about, and the latest happenings in the European tech scene.

24 comments
kingmans
kingmans

I would but I can't hire someone that does not apply for the job. The title of the article seems to imply that women are available but we aren't hiring them. I have been trying to hire a windows admin and a Unix/Linux admin. Without actually counting them, my guess is that the percentage of resumes that I see from women is around 5%. When I evaluate a resume, I don't care about gender. I can only hire the best from the applicants that I see. The last time I posted for a Windows admin job, the strongest resume in the first batch that I received was from a woman. After a very good phone interview we invited her in for an in-person interview, our usual process, and we were very disappointed when she called the day before and said that she decided to stay where she was because of a new project that just came down. The only other woman in that batch of resumes was from an office manager with no apparent training or experience in IT. I agree that women should be encouraged to get into IT but until they do, I can't hire them at a higher rate than they are applying for the position.

mjd420nova
mjd420nova

I have worked withjust as many women as men in the field service industry and found a large number of women who have the attitude that we, as men should mak allowances for them BECUSE they are women. When climbing around on a clients roof to realign a satelite dish or lugging a large plotter off the 32nd floor of a building, there are many aids to facilitate getting the job done by a less agile or capable tech but it takes more preperation and time to accomplish. If they can do the job without help, like most men, more power to them and I have no qualms about sending them out on any job. Of course, there are many men who suffer from the same faults and want allowances to be made. Why? I'd rather send one capable person to do a job than any two who can't do it alone. Another problem is the attitude these semi-skilled workers give to those who are assigned to either help or direct those who can't or won't work alone. Unions are a big instigator of allowing women to take jobs that a man can do in half the time. Making allowances for less physically able workers hurts production and instills an attitude in those skilled workers who question why they should work so hard for the same money a less capable worker gets. Yes, there are excepions on both sides of that gender line and that's not the problem here. The problem is that those who cannot do a job for said amount of money want allowances to be made because of gender. Is this a smart decision??

BookwormMAD
BookwormMAD

I'm a grandmother and I've been in IT for decades. No, I have not seen any obstacles in my career that hint a bias against women. However, I also feel there is a lack of female presence in the industry. I live in a small town in Wisconsin and have been asked to speak to high school classes about women in IT (by a woman teaching IT) and I have seen a decided lack of interest on the part of the young women attending. In fact, I got the impression that they were there only because attendance is required. The real issue is this; how do we foster interest in the girls who are under 12. You are all accepting that by age 12 girls are no longer interested. Why are they not interested? Is it the uncool nerd image of IT personnel? The stereotype that the media uses to portray female computer jockeys? Girls are under a great deal of pressure to be popular and pretty (read princess-like). Parents are still entering their preschool daughters in beauty pageants, for crying out loud. How could a child who is being raised in this type of home aspire to become a nerd??? It goes against everything she has been taught. When I was in high school, I wanted to take math instead of home economics. My father had to go to the school and force them to allow it. BTW, I graduated in 1970. The world has come a long way since that time. But I feel that girls are still taught to use physical beauty as their primary currency. That is where the change needs to happen. The business world has already accepted women as talented, hard-working people. Now if we can only teach them to accept themselves in the same way!

mikifinaz1
mikifinaz1

IT has become like knitting, so it is woman's work. So you get women to do it.

Kinetixx
Kinetixx

In 2010, a report sponsored by the National Science Foundation asked the question of why so few women were working in STEM (Science, Tech, Engineering and Maths) professions. The authors wondered why, in an era when women are increasingly prominent in medicine, law, and business, so few women becoming scientists and engineers. In the 134 page report, they noted that girls and women continue to face negative stereotypes about women’s capacity in these demanding fields, although it is getting better. Researchers also believe that stereotypes can lower girls’ aspirations for science and engineering careers over time, which of course leads to fewer women in STEM fields. The issue of self-assessment, or how we view our own abilities, is another area where cultural factors have been found to limit girls’ interest in mathematics and mathematically challenging careers. Research profiled in the report finds that girls assess their mathematical abilities lower than do boys with similar mathematical achievements. This is only how the girls assess themselves; tests often show parity between the boys and the girls in actual ability. One of the largest gender differences in cognitive abilities is found in the area of spatial skills, with boys and men consistently outperforming girls and women. Spatial skills are considered by many people to be important for success in engineering and other scientific fields. Look at the toys that parents present to their newborns. Too often girls are given the dolls, and boys are given the Legos. However it has also been shown that if girls grow up in an environment that enhances their success in science and math with spatial skills training, they are more likely to develop their skills as well as their confidence and consider a future in a STEM field. Many people have an implicit bias, associating science and math with "male" and humanities with "female". Not only are people more likely to associate math and science with men than with women, people often hold negative opinions of women in “masculine” positions, like scientists or engineers, an explicit bias. Research profiled in this report shows that people judge women to be less competent than men in “male” jobs unless they are clearly successful in their work. When a woman is clearly competent in a “masculine” job, she is considered to be less likable. Because both likability and competence are needed for success in the workplace, women in STEM fields can find themselves in a double bind. Unlike my sister, I am a woman that had no innate clue as to what to do with a doll. I grew up playing with the toys my male cousins enjoyed. I had a knack for math. My dad was a mechanic and when i expressed interest in them, he taught me how to work on cars. At home, I was never discouraged for having non-stereotypical interests, and perhaps that is why in college i loved my science and math classes. I ultimately became a programmer and network engineer. However, once i began to work in a stereotypically "male" profession (i've been in it since 1983), i did find there were biases and they did absolutely impact my ability to rise in the ranks, but only in some companies, and only with some bosses. There were times when i could either be seen as competent or well-liked, but not both. As a result, i moved to companies/work environments in which i could feel comfortable, competent and highly valued, because i was not going to give up working in a field that i enjoyed. In two cases previous bosses called to ask me back with substantial raises, but i would not return to what would have still been an uncomfortable atmosphere. I guess i am fortunate in that i am not easily intimidated by others, but i do enjoy learning from others, so i gravitate towards places that are inclusive. Companies that need competence will only learn to change their culture when they begin to lose the talents that women possess. Parents, schools and companies should encourage and mentor women AND men to excel in whatever field their interests lie. That requires us all to understand bias and create clear criteria for success and enough transparency to help us avoid bias. [b]Think [u]you[/u] have no biases?[/b] Take the implicit bias test at [u]https://implicit.harvard.edu.[/u] It can help you identify and understand your biases so that you can work to compensate for them.

kitekrazy
kitekrazy

Seems like the title of the article lacks intelligence. Maybe a women should have wrote this.

Fairbs
Fairbs

Sampling the 8 comments so far, six say there is no bias while two say there are. It seems that 4 of the six no bias people are male (although it's hard to tell for sure). I would have to say that I would take a survey of women's opinions on this subject as more significant. Two of four or 50% feel there are problems based on our little comments board community. From the article... 'Recent research found that only around one in 10 CIOs is a woman and about three quarters of IT managers are male.' Is the sample size for this research large enough to show this as a global truth? Has there been research to understand why less women are in IT? Or do we just write it off as they're not interested. I encouraged a male friend of mine to switch from Chemical Engineering to Computer Engineering and he never looked back. Are we not talking to the right kids about how cool / rewarding / whatnot IT can be?

OurITLady
OurITLady

If there's a specific reason behind the curriculum that puts women off from studying then it should be corrected. However I attended an all girls school from 11 - 16 and the science classes were smaller than, for example, the art, history or language classes - and you can't say that was because of any bias towards women since the entire year was female. Perhaps we should just agree that men and women are different, they have different views and different interests, and I disagree with trying to persuade anyone into studying something they have little or no interest in. Young people should be encouraged to examine their strengths and interests and choose their subjects accordingly, regardless of what gender they happen to be, and if that leads to an imbalance of the sexes in some fields then so be it.

AV .
AV .

I don't know what would encourage more women to go into IT. I think many of them are just not interested. I'm a female Network Admin and have been for over 25 years. In my particular job, I have worked with very few women in my capacity over the years and I think its because of the demanding nature of the job. Many women have families to care for and that takes precedence over a job. I have seen women in other less demanding IT jobs though, so I don't think its a problem that companies and schools are not doing enough to encourage women. I think it depends on what IT job you're talking about. Supporting the infrastructure of a company might not be attractive to most women because of family obligations, but programming or training might because it offers flexibility. I've been everything from a help desk person to an IT Director and don't think I've ever been denied any job because of my gender. Yes, in my capacity, I work with mostly men. Thats ok, I like working with men and have no problem fitting in and being one of the "guys". AV

jhorton
jhorton

I agree with much of what jfuller is contesting in the article - this is NOT a gender issue at all. While I do not disagree that more of an effort should be made to make the curriculum more attractive, gender really doesn't enter into it. Either IT/IS/IA is something that one finds fascinating and lucrative enough to pursue or it is not; there is not truly a middle ground. I have worked with many women who have chosen some facet of IT/IS/IA as a career, as well as trained more than a few, and have not really noticed 'gender-based inequities', insofar as abilities or interest. This underlying buzz which engendered this article is, as in most other cases where some perceived imbalance exists, simply looking in the wrong place for the right answer; to wit, there aren't enough qualified IT/IS/IA people being produced by the educational system, no matter the gender or ethnic group or . Am I foolish enough to believe that hiring biases do not exist? Hardly. There is not now, never has been or ever will be, a dearth of people in positions of authority who will let personal agendas and prejudices unduly influence their decisions. That having been said, I have yet to see credible evidence that there are any widespread biases against women in technical fields of any kind. Sorry, Nick, but this issue is ephemera.

cntry3
cntry3

I just finished 2 semesters with the final goal of attaining my CCNA. I attained my CCENT last May and will sit for the CCNA the end of Aug. I do not plan to take any more courses because the teachers attitude toward teaching a woman was so poor. I am full of anger and will attain any other cert on my own. My teacher told me regularly I would not succeed. I learned from the female assistant who often tutored, a good support system, and my own stubborn persistence. I am in my forties and worked in construction and trucking for over 20 years. I know how to work in a male dominated workplace but not how to learn from someone who thinks the way their brain operates is the only way. Women may learn and or think differently but we are fully capable of being viable IT employees. We often are single moms and will overachieve to support our children. There were 21 people in our class -only 2 women. 8 of us attained the ccent. I think teachers forget we are not wives and daughters to be treated with familiar condescension when we do not accomplish a goal with the same side of our brain as a man does.

Sagax-
Sagax-

There are not more women in IT because the women do not choose to be in IT. It is that simple. There are no "barriers" to women in IT these days. Yes, in the past, there were. But they have gone away.

Tink!
Tink!

I grew up wanting to be a marine biologist by day and a crafter at night, but by the time Senior year in High School came around I was completely burned out on school, especially Math and Science. Luckily, because of my typing skills I got office jobs via a temp service. Through these jobs I began acquiring tech skills, something I never ever had even thought about doing. As it turned out, my creativity in crafting and art, allowed me to absorb technical data and then rework it into possible solutions for the problems. Beginning with minor things such as fixing copier jams, printer jams, and other office appliance malfunctions. Eventually I realized my abilities included computers, software, and other aspects of IT. I am now a Network Administrator by day, and a gamer/crafter at night. :D

Nick Heath
Nick Heath

@jfuller. Thanks you make some interesting points. My point, however, was let's examine why there is an imbalance and whether anything could be done to encourage more women to enter the profession - not let's force more women to enter IT. Obviously not everyone has to be interested in the same thing or pursue the same career, but I don't see the problem with trying to encourage more women to join the industry. Why not strive to increase the talent pool? And surely it's better to continue to study why more women aren't involved in the industry rather than jumping to the conclusion they're not interested. Also I'm talking about everyday bias. I would argue that everyone - men and women - are biased, for example towards favouring certain types of people or beliefs. Those biases can also become entrenched in institutions. I think biases are part and parcel of being human and being aware of them - both as individuals and as institutions - is useful in guiding future behaviour.

GSG
GSG

We're 2/3 women to 1/3 men here. In Healthcare IT in general, I would guess that you might see the ratio at 50/50, with a higher ration of women to men in implementation and management roles, with slightly more men than women in a development role. At least, that's what i'm seeing with my vendors.

jfuller05
jfuller05

[i]If you are comfortable that those figures are a reflection of business finding the right person for the job then you are effectively saying women don’t have what it takes to succeed in IT.[/i] No that doesn't necessarily follow at all. Saying women don't have what it takes is not a necessary conclusion to feeling comfortable that businesses are currently finding the right person for a job. [i]While some researchers have found that girls tend to favour languages, arts and social studies over maths and science from age 12, there’s no evidence to suggest that women are not suited to a career in tech.[/i] The research isn't about what a girl is *suited* for the research is an indicator of what girls *favor* or at least according to your sentence that is what I'm understanding. It's all about interest. Clearly, from my college classes and from IT work, women can be just as suited for a tech career as a men given training and natural talent. It's all about interest. The clear thinkers who think forcing women into IT and making it an issue of equality don't think women aren't suited for tech careers, instead the clear thinkers are saying, "It's an interest issue and nothing more." [i]The key is understanding what’s being asked here - it’s not a demand for women to be parachuted into jobs they are unqualified for. It’s asking for an examination of our schooling systems and workplaces to see if there are ways that could encourage more women to choose a career in IT.[/i] I graduated from a Kentucky university and the ratio of men and women in my IT classes was about one woman for every man. In Kentucky. Now, I don't have hard data, but just thinking of the typical image of Kentucky as being about 20 years behind everyone else I'm going to take a shot in the dark say, "If that ratio is in a KY university then I'm sure there are roughly equal amounts of men and women in other state colleges and universities." The message getting out is equal. This is a non-issue and needs to be buried. Also, at the same university we had a female IT teacher and a male IT teacher. The IT dept consisted of two male IT guys and, oh no, only one female IT tech...clearly the university is sexist. ;) [i]This is about providing more opportunities and stamping out inequalities, not swapping favouritism towards one group for another.[/i] Oh sure. No agenda at all. Crystal clear. I know the current system is just chock full of chauvinists. The IT world is nasty and not open at all to women. It's something that clearly needs to be fixed. [i]If you want to make sure that businesses are getting the right people for the job then why not try and root out inherent biases in our schools and offices?[/i] Because I seriously doubt there are biases. Especially when I go to my district's public school website and see the director of technology is a woman, one of the support techs is a woman, and that one of the tech teachers is a woman. Now, I know there is a bias when I see that the Network Admin is a man. Dude, there is all kinds of bias there. That tech director must be a against women in the IT department! Oh wait...I forgot, the director is a woman. Uh, um, I know! Her husband is feeding her chauvinistic literature and making her an anti-feminist. :\ I don't think the reason this "issue" isn't worth pursuing is because of any economic reason, instead I think it should be killed because it's bizarre to think women don't get a fair shot at an IT job. Do I think every single hiring manager is pure in his or her decision on a candidate for the job? No I don't. A lot of factors are involved in a hiring managers decision, e.g., is this a friend, is this candidate recommended by someone in-house, and am I bias against this candidate's gender; just to name a few. For the most part, I think it's fair to say men and women are equally considered for every job. I heavily hesitate to say that most hiring managers have a bias against women in IT. I cannot reasonably base an "anti-women in IT argument" on stats showing what women *favor,* the current % of men in the IT workforce, and other interest data because such stats do not show a bias against women in any way; one cannot reasonably draw such a conclusion from data like that. You would have to do better than that. I think this "issue" is nothing more than a new "war on women" issue to try and rally people together for some meaningless cause. Yes, with this "issue" some women who weren't chosen for a tech job will crawl to this article and lament how they weren't chosen because IT is so anti-woman and even some feminist men will champion this article and others like it, but at the end of day I have to ask, "Okay, woman who wasn't chosen for the tech job, how many men weren't chosen along with you? What gender was hired?" It could be that a different woman was chosen over her or that the man who was chosen over her (not to mention the countless other candidates who happened to be men) was more qualified. It's a thought to consider. This "issue" is just the result from what women naturally (oh, maybe I should use another word - nah, I'll stick with it just for fun I guess) favor, which doesn't mean every single woman obviously, and most likely nothing more. Not every man is interested in IT either. A lot of my male friends tell me they like tech products, but would hate having a tech career because they're more interested in business, construction, architecture, art, etc. I've also had women tell me the same thing. I have quite a few female friends in the IT business too: one is a web designer, one is a help desk tech, and the other is still in college getting a degree in network administration. I'm not basing my argument in my experience alone because that would be a fool's errand and not worth the time of this comment; what I'm basing it on is what I read, see, and hear around the IT world. Quite a few "in-the-trenches" IT podcasts I listen to involve women they've talked about this supposed issue because CompTIA is championing it too. Sometimes I think activist type people miss the days when actual social issues like this existed. Why? Because then the issue was real and writing like this would actually be underpinned with strong material instead of toothpicks. I admit I could be wrong. I'm not so bold to think I'm 100% correct on this topic, but your evidence doesn't lead me to the conclusion you've reached. Perhaps I'm ignorant. I need more evidence to believe there is actually a bias against women in the IT world.

tiina.ferm
tiina.ferm

in Finland there are less than 10% female in STEM professions. One can not hire if there are no applicants. I don't think the problem is in the education system. There is no need for suppressing or not encouraging girls in studies. The current accepted model of a female in western culture does not favor "rough technical" professions that require "physical strength".

BookwormMAD
BookwormMAD

Scroll down and read this guy's post: Proof is in the pudding mjd420nova 5 hrs ago

info
info

One of those '50%' only had the opinion of their one teacher. We all know teachers don't get withdrawn and defensive, since a lot of them can't seem to find meaningful work in their profession...for some reason. ;) A local group to me is pushing for segregated secondary school classes, boys and girls. Apparently, without the influence of boys, the girls focus less on their appearance and how they 'impress' the boys, and tend to perform better in the classroom.

necessaryevil
necessaryevil

but it isn't reality. Speaking from the female perspective, they have not gone away. Believe me. This is experience talking. They don't expect women, they expect men and they are acting on it. Again, it's a nice thought but it isn't what happens in practice. Welcome to my world. I get to see it a lot.

info
info

I hate to say it, Nick, but that IS how you came off sounding... I agree with jfuller. If anything, bias in the IT workplace is TOWARDS women. Indeed, when a woman applied at a tech support center previously worked at I made an off-hand remark to the manager that he'd better hire her. A week earlier, a woman didn't get the job of bus driver in a neighbouring town and successfully sued the bus company for thousands of dollars for 'discrimination'! This particular woman wasn't all that good at her job, but I've met lots that were. I've seen some competition though, as some 'geeks' that try to give the 'little girl' a hand with 'the complicated computer systems' tend to get resentful when said 'little girl' suddenly blows them into the weeds with her expertise. I remember the 'educational bias' that was spun at us as teenagers, trying to get us to go into particular fields. We pretty much just ignored it and did whatever we wanted to do, or whatever we hoped would earn us the most money...

mudpuppy1
mudpuppy1

I am SO tired of the mentality that says that because women are 50-ish% of the population that they should be 50% of IT (or any other field). That's insane. I heard that crap years ago when these same idiots said that because blacks made up 11% (or so) of the population, they should be represented in every field at 11%. How about we just let people do what they want to do if they have the aptitude for it. Freedom, people. I thought we were past such stupidity by now.

mmercy77
mmercy77

As a female IT professional for almost 16 years, I can agree that the barriers are still there. There are not always easy to detect by they show in little details (second guessing valid observations and recommendations and the fact that you have to watch the way you dress and act in order to avoid being objectified comes right to my mind). Promotions are also not easily granted to an IT female unless she can prove that she can do much better than other male members in the same field. In some cases, it takes twice as long to get these promotions. I have also seen situations were salary was not up to part with other coworkers with the same job title. Some companies might be more welcoming to an IT female population but it doesn't mean that discrimination based on gender has gone away.

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