The rewards of a career in information technology include above-average compensation, advancement opportunities, intelligent peers and job satisfaction. Employers, to attract and retain talent, have become increasingly flexible about alternate schedules, remote work and family leave—benefits that appeal to many women.
If we look at trends during the past decade, women have not gravitated toward information technology in the increasing numbers that one might expect from an industry that offers the stability of ever-increasing growth and is experiencing a seller’s market (more jobs than qualified candidates), which is likely to continue.
However, according to the National Center for Education Statistics and The Washington Post, “Barely 18 percent of computer science degrees go to women.” And according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, 68 percent of women enroll in college (compared to 63 percent of men), and women increasingly outnumber men in college graduation rates. Yet, women still make up only a quarter of the tech industry workforce.
Much of this may stem from lack of exposure to computer science before and during college. Code.org’s research showed that nine out of 10 schools don't even offer computer science classes, and in 28 out of 50 states, computer science doesn't count toward a math or science credit. Girls account for about 46 percent of advanced placement calculus test-takers but approximately 80 percent of them don’t end up taking a computer science class.
Clearly, we have to do a better job encouraging girls to understand the benefits of a career in IT and let them know that they can excel while avoiding the “geek” label. Ideally this encouragement should start early, in the identity-forming phase of roughly 5 to 7 years of age. As the Academy Award-nominated movie Hidden Figures attests, women can be “wicked good” in IT.
This is more than an issue for the individual. Many countries—in particular India and China— require rigorous math and science training and urge their female students to choose related careers. The competitive posture of countries like the United States will continue to lose ground unless the issue is addressed. We have to engage the female workforce.
Once a woman has entered the IT workforce, she may face obstacles such as determining her career path, the availability of mentors, learning her market value, and developing a professional approach and style that balances confidence and assertiveness with collaboration and encouragement to others.
The upcoming webinar, “Self-Empowerment in Technology: Bootstrapping and Belief,” part of ISACA’s Connecting Women Leaders in Technology program, will address practical considerations: how women can be recognized for their intelligence and receive credit for their contributions, how they can learn and leverage their market value, and principles to apply in building a body of achievements that enable agility and continuing advancement. The webinar also will explore some self-limitations to avoid as well as positive adjustments that increase confidence and create a distinctive professional voice.
I hope you’ll join me for this important conversation.