Getting Women Back Into IT

Much research has been done on mothers who drop out of the workforce to raise a family; nearly three of 10 moms of children younger than 18 in the United States don’t work. But what about those women who try to break back in? In fields where intense pressure is placed on professionals to constantly update their skills, such as IT, this can be a particularly arduous process.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that 28 percent of mothers in the United States with children younger than 18 don’t work; among mothers of infant-age children, the percentage climbs to nearly half.

Less information is available about the experience of women who try to return to work after a break in their careers. In fields where intense pressure is placed on participants to constantly update their skills, such as IT, this can be a particularly arduous process.

One firm is helping moms get back into IT.

This month, ThoughtWorks, a Chicago-based software consultancy, is starting a four-week training class for women looking to get back into IT. The retraining class will focus on getting the women’s programming skills back up to speed, and could potentially end with a job offer.

“Someone who has been out for 10 years is going to have rusty programming skills, so we are going to teach them the basics of Java and other fundamentals the first two weeks,” says Jackie Kinsey, people director at ThoughtWorks.

The number of women working in IT has actually declined since 2000. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women accounted for 28.9 percent of the overall IT workforce in 2000. In 2006, though, women made up only 26.2 percent, dropping even while IT employment hit an all-time high.

ThoughtWorks placed ads in various newspapers— but most often, it was friends or significant others who spotted them—60 women have expressed interest so far, of which 12 will join the first pilot class, which will be held in Britain. Not all of these women had left their jobs just to have children, though, In fact, Kinsey estimates that about 70 percent joining the group were returning from raising a family. this is the case for about 70 percent of the group.

“A couple women said they’d had bad experiences in organizations and had left IT disillusioned,” she said. “We found that there is a definite gap in the market in training for women who have left the job market. The feedback we’ve had is really positive. They appreciate that we have recognized them as a community.”

Carolyn Leighton, CEO, founder and chairwoman of WITI, a leadership organization for women who work with technology, applauded the approach. “When you’re dealing with a high-demand area like IT with a relatively low supply relating to demand, the biggest mistake companies make is falling back on old ways of recruiting,” she says. “Women need a different approach if companies are really invested in bringing them back. A lot of women are put off by meat-market-type environments such as job fairs.”

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