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When it comes to innovation in products and services, information technology is on the cutting edge. But there's one area where the industry lags behind other sectors: gender diversity. Despite growing recognition of the benefits of a varied workforce and the abundance of lucrative IT career opportunities available, the proportion of women in the IT sector has declined over the past few years. What can organizations do to reverse this trend?
Gender diversity struggling in IT jobs
As a new TEKsystems infographic illustrates, women account for only 25 percent of the IT workforce, even though they form 57 percent of the professional workforce. This disparity is even starker in management, with women holding less than 10 percent of those jobs.
Why are so few women finding careers in information technology? While part of the problem may have to do with hiring and management approaches, the root of the imbalance occurs much earlier, in the education system. Many factors, including gender bias in science classrooms, have discouraged girls from enrolling in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) courses. On average, only about 20 percent of the AP Computer Science test takers are women, and last year 27 states reported 30 or fewer female students signing up for the test. In college this trend continues, with women trailing well behind their male counterparts in pursuing degrees in computer science and engineering.
Even when women do choose these academic paths, they often face discrimination, isolation and limited opportunities that can become substantial barriers to career advancement. For example, computer programmer Philip Guo described in a Slate article how he felt he was given the benefit of the doubt just because he looked like the stereotypical tech expert, whereas his female peers faced discouraging comments and limited support along the way.
Why should we care?
Beyond the social value of gender equality in the workplace, increasing gender diversity in technology fields is an important business strategy. Companies with both men and women on their boards tend to be more profitable than businesses with all-male leadership. Gender diversity is also correlated with stock value and sales revenue, with positive outcomes tied to companies that have more women contributing to their strategies and projects.
IT experts are in high demand in today's technology-driven economy. A talent shortage is already causing IT staffing challenges, making it difficult for organizations to acquire the expertise they need. Encouraging and helping more talented women to pursue IT careers can only benefit the economy as a whole.
Bridging the gap
Beyond supporting initiatives and organizations such as Women in Technology International that seek to inspire women's interest in IT careers, companies can adjust their approaches to make tech roles more appealing to female professionals. For example, adding more female representatives at the board level can help foster diversity throughout the organization.
Furthermore, companies can launch diversity campaigns to fuel respect for women and their contributions so that all team members feel valued and appreciated. Leaders must coordinate long-term and short-term strategies aimed at hiring more women and ensuring they receive the same mentoring and support as their male counterparts.
Interested in learning more? Check out our new infographic, Completing the circuit: Rewiring IT for greater gender diversity. Or let us know how you feel about this topic in the comments!