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Nonprofits aim to draw more women to IT careers

March 04, 2014

With a growing demand for professionals to fill IT jobs across industries, recruiters and executives have decried the shortage of IT talent. This situation has shined new light on another challenge for the IT industry: the lack of women in technology careers. Facing stigma and stereotypes surrounding IT jobs, women make up a disproportionately small percentage of the IT workforce and computer science scholars. It is this imbalance that a number of nonprofit groups are setting out to address.

Tech groups launch initiatives to reach out to women
To spark more interest among women in pursuing technology careers, nonprofits and education centers are forming initiatives to educate girls and women about exciting IT career opportunities and employers about the benefits of having a more diverse workforce.

For example, CompTIA's volunteer group, the Advancing Women in IT Community, was created to advocate for greater inclusion of women in the industry. The community recently announced its plans to reach out to 10,000 people—including girls, women and employers—to talk about opportunities for women in IT. Representatives of the community told FierceCIO that the group hopes to make IT careers more attractive to women by spreading job information, offering tips and providing other resources. Group members intend to overcome stereotypes and showcase the variety of jobs that are available in the field.

"Our goal is to promote STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education to young women in junior high and high school," said Michelle Ragusa-McBain, community vice-chair. "We're also interested in reaching out to female veterans seeking post-military careers and professional women in other fields who may be ready for a career change."

Similarly, the National Center for Women & Information Technology holds "Sit with Me" events at universities to showcase the role of women in IT, the UB Reporter explained. At the sessions, such as the one planned for the University of Buffalo in March, students can listen to women tell their IT career stories. 

Why it's necessary
A few statistics point to the need for initiatives that aim to interest women in IT careers:

  • 24 percent of US IT workers are female—and this percentage is dropping, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
  • In 2008, women earned only 18 percent of computer science degrees, though they received 57 percent of all BA degrees, the National Center for Women & Information Technology found, as UB Reporter noted.
  • Women hold only 4.6 percent of Fortune 500 CEO positions and 4.6 percent of Fortune 1000 CEO positions as of January 2014, according to Catalyst.

Women have struggled to enter IT fields for a number of reasons, from early stereotypes about girls' mental strengths to "boys' club" conditions in the industry. In an article for Slate Magazine, Philip Guo described his observation about the "micro-iniquities" women face in technology. He told a story about a female MIT student who landed a summer internship at a media lab. Whereas her fellow intern—who was male—was given actual computer programming tasks, she was assigned "mind-numbing" transcription duties. Not only did she feel undervalued, she missed out on the opportunity to strengthen her tech skills and receive valuable mentorship.

Including more women is beneficial for all
Information technology companies offer exceptional career opportunities, and women would benefit from greater access to these roles.

"They're highly paid, highly flexible jobs," Maria Klawe, president of Claremont's Harvey Mudd College and a computer scientist, told Contra Costa Times. "You can do computer science with pretty much anything you're passionate about. I just don't think that it's very good that a large segment of our population doesn't have access to those jobs."

Additionally, bringing more women on board carries advantages for companies as well. Kimber Lockhard explained to the newspaper that it's difficult to hire talented engineers, so expanding the applicant pool by encouraging more women to study technology programs could mitigate the struggles of IT recruiters.

Diversity is good for innovation and problem solving, Meebo co-founder Sandy Jen told the news source, since it facilitates the "cross-pollination of ideas" by bringing together different backgrounds and perspectives. Studies have also shown that co-ed groups tend to be more productive than homogenous teams.

"Increasingly, companies are realizing this isn't about corporate social responsibility," said Denise Gammal of the Borg Institute, according to the source. "It's becoming a business imperative."

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