Gender Gap in IT

28 Jul

IT is dead, long live the geek

Contrary to what one might expect after listening about all the news on the downturn in IT, and worries about outsourcing, IT is still a very robust and very well paid field. Median annual earnings of computer systems analysts were $62,890 in 2002. Bureau of Labor Statistics states,

“Computer systems analysts, database administrators, and computer scientists are expected to be among the fastest growing occupations through 2012. Employment of these computer specialists is expected to grow much faster than the average for all occupations as organizations continue to adopt and integrate increasingly sophisticated technologies. Job increases will be driven by very rapid growth in computer system design and related services, which is projected to be one of the fastest-growing industries in the U.S. economy. In addition, many job openings will arise annually from the need to replace workers who move into managerial positions or other occupations or who leave the labor force.”

IT is an extremely important cog of the American economy. Nearly all the increase in productivity over the past 15 years can be attributed to IT. IT will remain at the forefront of innovation and increase in productivity for years to come and with the convergence of IT and entertainment – the sector is poised for another spurt of growth.

Why do we need women in IT?

Recently, Microsoft chief, Bill Gates, lamented the lack of women working in technology and computer engineering. It is widely recognized that the skills of men and women need to be equally tapped in order to be successful in the global economy. We simply need more people to work in IT. One of the key drivers of outsourcing has been the relatively small talent pool in CS in the US. Some people are dismissive of the need for women in hard sciences like physics and computer science, but if the precedent in biological sciences is anything to go by where women play an increasingly important role – the computer industry is missing out on the talents of half of the population.

On the other end, the industry also needs women as consumers of technology. If gaming industry is anything to go by, it appears that technology companies may be at the risk of alienating half of the world’s population, an inexcusably moronic business decision.

IT companies and women

IBM Corp., one of the largest IT service companies in the world, is rated as the 10th best company in the country for women executives by National Association for Female Executives. HP, another computer giant, features among top 10 also. While both cases can be seen as a sign that technology companies are providing decent opportunities to women to climb up the ladder, the examples are not representative of conditions faced by most female IT employees. Most IT professionals work at either small IT firms, or in IT divisions of non-IT firms, where traditional attitudes continue to dominate. In addition, gender-blind structures post hiring shouldn’t be mistaken for gender-blind hiring structures.

Why IT market is so tough for women?
It is necessary to provide continuous training for upgrading skills. Women who have been out of the labor force for some time (due to pregnancy) find their skills obsolete. The counter point is that IT jobs can be done while telecommuting.

Outright discrimination against women

Discrimination in Academic Workplace:
A study commissioned by Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta in 2001 tried to analyze the career trajectories of women with PhD in science. The study, using data from the Survey of Doctorate Recipients, evaluated differences in employment outcomes for academic scientists by gender. It found that women were less likely to be promoted to tenure.

Why is it hard for women to pursue CS in colleges

Some of the engineering/CS classes are genuinely hard where there is a need for a “buddy system”- collaborating on assignments etc. With few women in CS classes, women feel reluctant to join CS classes. We need a critical mass of women in CS classes to really see a quantum jump in enrollment. A recent paper by Murphy and Steele, analyzing data from MSE classes at Stanford, found that Stereotype threat is more salient for women when the gender imbalance is more extreme.

Here’s are results from a survey:

A recent survey done by the Gallup Organization in conjunction with CNN, USA Today, and the National Science Foundation included 744 children in grades 7 through 12. “Telephone Interviews were conducted from March 20-27, 1997 from Gallup interviewing centers throughout the country. The focus of the survey was on students’ familiarity with and use of modern technology with special attention given to use of computers and the Internet.” (Gallup 1997) Some things that they found were that “American teenagers are very interested in and reliant on modern technology.” The paper gives a lot of information about findings regarding students usage of computers and other household technologies. The somewhat surprising facts to us came with the findings on comparisons of boys and girls. The similarities between boys and girls were staggering. “Boys and girls express nearly identical levels of confidence in using computer, with average scores (on a zero to 10 point scale) of 6.8 and 6.7 respectively. … One-third of both boys and girls feel their computer/technology education is on track…”(Gallup 1997).

Unfortunately, these numbers signifying gender equality do not represent the trends seen in boys and girls entering fields in computer science. According to Cynthia Lanius, author of an article, Getting Girls Interested in Computer Science, these results are encouraging because “increasing girls’ computer use may be necessary to increase girls’ interest in computer science”. However, she also feels that this is not enough. “Computer science (which really should be called computing science) is the study of computation; computers are merely the tool performing the computation.” (Lanius) Her basic conjecture is that saying that girls are using computers or even are comfortable with computers just as much as boys means nothing to how it will effect the computer science field. The fact is the number of girls entering computer science is dropping and we would like to figure out why.




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