Why do so few women work in IT?
Think about technology and IT for a second, and who comes to mind? You likely conjure up Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Michael Dell or Larry Ellison.
In fact, according to a 2011 report, men make up almost 73 percent of the computer and information systems workforce. And the percentage of men versus women increases for computer hardware engineering and engineering managers.
Yet the same report also notes that women hold more than half of all professional jobs in the United States. So why are so few females in the tech industry?
“One of the problems is there are few female role models in IT,” says Gail Ali, PhD, college campus chair of the computer information systems program at the University of Phoenix South Florida Campus. Without women in the technology limelight, it’s hard for young women to see potential in that field, she notes.
“There are even fewer female mentors,” adds Ali, who has 18 years of IT experience for various companies. “It’s been mostly males, and as I moved up the ranks, it was even more males. I was always the only female.”
Recent years have seen some influential women in technology fields— including new Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer — reach great heights.
But that kind of achievement remains the exception when you consider that only 11 percent of Fortune 500 tech company executives are women, and females own only 5 percent of all tech startup companies, according to IT Manager Daily. It’s also common for women to make less money than men doing the same jobs. And 56 percent of women who enter the technology sector give it up for other careers.
These departures might be partly because of the male-dominated culture of IT and the rise of “brogrammers” — techies that are part programmer, part frat boy with a penchant for using the word “bro.” This may lead to a feeling of alienation among female colleagues, according to The Atlantic Wire.
In the early days of IT, anyone who worked in the field was considered a geek. Now, movies like “The Social Network” and numerous lucrative tech startups have helped change the attitude toward the industry. It’s cool — at least to men.
But Ali believes many women still view IT as “nerdy” and that they may find the math intimidating. She also thinks U.S. culture contributes to the lack of women in IT, and that employers should educate the public on the role women play in IT elsewhere.
“If you look at Eastern cultures, like China, India and Malaysia,” she says, “they’ve promoted more women into technology, and for some reason, the U.S. isn’t doing the same.”
In addition to some of the obvious reasons to help women play a larger role in the IT world — creating role models for the future and breaking down gender stereotypes — it can also be good for business.
According to a study reported in The New York Times, “Research indicates that investing in women as tech entrepreneurs is good for the bottom line,” noting that “venture-backed startups run by women use, on average, 40 percent less capital than startups run by men and are increasingly involved in successful initial public offerings of stock.”