A non-profit’s report on how to get more women into the information technology field determines that they earn more than half of all undergraduate degrees but are massively underrepresented in IT studies: women earn less than one-fifth of computer and information sciences degrees.
The report by AIM, which describes itself as “a not-for-profit community organization that promotes technology to empower people, enhance organizations and create brilliant communities,” says that the continued rate of demand for technical talent presents significant opportunities for women who choose to pursue careers in IT because the number of high-paying IT jobs continues to grow faster than the number of graduates who can fill them.
Dr. Levi Thiele, who authored the report, says, “Diversity in IT is important for several reasons. Besides promoting equality, it also enhances innovation and productivity. Innovative change is encouraged by drawing on a diverse knowledge base. Studies have shown that gender-balanced teams were more likely to experiment, share knowledge, and fulfill tasks. Additionally, diversity expands the pool of qualified IT talent. The dearth of women in IT has the potential of slowing the U.S. economy.” (The citations for Thiele’s conclusions are included in his report for those seeking more in-depth knowledge on the gender disparity.)
One solution Thiele proposes for attracting more women to IT is promoting the relatively good paycheck equity the field provides. “IT offers many benefits to women. The gender wage gap is smaller in IT than it is in other fields. On average, women in IT occupations earn $0.91 to every $1.00 earned by their male counterparts,” he writes, citing a 2013 U.S. Department of Labor. “In comparison, the overall gender wage gap is $0.77 / $1.00. Some of the best paying jobs for women are in the IT field, including developers, system programmers, and network analysts.”
Another way companies could increase hiring of women in IT, Thiele suggests is through creation of mentoring programs for women new to the field. He says the programs not only aid in recruiting women into the field but have the added bonus of retaining them as employees once hired. That’s a significant economic reward for companies dealing with the expense of high employee turnover rates.
Perks can also be a strong selling point, too. Thiele cites a PC magazine article on popular perks from the IT field that could be especially attractive to women. “Some of these include unlimited vacation and sick days, flexible scheduling, telecommuting, pet friendly office spaces, on-site fitness facilities and group running clubs, comprehensive wellness programs, free food and drink, technology stipends, complimentary club cars, transit reimbursement, and even vacation stipends,” Thiele writes.
Looking at the long term, Thiele says education needs to change both at the college level and in high schools. He finds, “Some college computer science departments are revamping their curriculum to broaden the program and attract more diversity. In 2009, Stanford’s CS department added multi-disciplinary tracks to cast a broader net for students. In 2012, 10% of Stanford students take the introductory CS class every quarter, and over 90% of undergraduates take the course before they graduate. The course has reached gender parity in enrollment and grades. Other colleges and universities are beginning to implement similar initiatives to the ones undertaken by Stanford with the goal of encouraging more women to explore IT opportunities.”
But the work needs to start even earlier in high school. Those active in the IT field might want to put pressure on their state education departments to increase the appeal of IT, Thiele proposes. “In 2009, for example, the College Board that administers advanced placement (AP) exams was forced to discontinue the second-level AP computer science exam because so few high school students were taking it. Meanwhile, only ten states currently allow computer science courses to fulfill core math or science requirements, if these courses are even being offered. Although the overall participation in IT classes is low for all students, it is especially low for females. In 2012, 30,000 students took the first-level AP computer science exam, but only 20% were female. In Mississippi, Montana, and Wyoming, no female students took the AP test,” he reports.