One Solution to IT Labor Shortage: Women

Could women be the answer to IT’s dwindling work force?

Penn State researchers argue the fairer sex is under-represented in the industry, and taking steps to increase their numbers would serve to swell the ranks of the overall work force and promote diversity.

See also: Women IT Leaders: One Step Forward, One Step Back

While women accounted for almost 60 percent of the U.S. labor force in 2004, according to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics, in the same period they accounted for 32 percent of the IT work force. Furthermore, according to a 2005 ITAA (Information Technology Association of America) study, women who leave the IT workplace are less likely than their male counterparts to return.

A new research paper attempts to investigate the factors that contribute to the under-representation of women in IT. The report finds that a recruiter’s typical sales pitch, which emphasizes job promotion and security, doesn’t work as well for women and argues that they will have to move beyond that to get more women through the IT door.

“Addressing women’s under-representation not only will help tackle the anticipated IT worker shortage but will help foster a diverse work force, a cornerstone of both innovation and economic development,” said Eileen Trauth, professor of information sciences and technology at the College of Information Sciences and Technology.

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The paper, “What Do Women Want?: An Investigation of Career Anchors among Women in the IT Work Force,” focuses on three of the traditional career anchors—factors which are believed to motivate individuals’ career choices—technical competence, managerial competence and organizational security. It found that a combination of them, rather than a single one, drove most women in IT. For example, many of the women interviewed who expressed that they valued technical and managerial competence also spoke about the value of facing challenges. Others spoke of values placed on independence and their ability to make decisions over the course of their careers.

“Human-resources personnel need to recognize that women have diverse values and motivations throughout their careers and tailor hiring and retention practices to fit those needs,” said Trauth. “You can’t classify women by a single category, whether that category is desire for technical competence or organizational security.”

Though research found that women’s career anchors across their career were fairly constant—those that valued technical competence early on also placed value on it later in their careers—others were less so. Lifestyle factors, such as the desire to balance life and work, were discussed by women with young children but became far less of a focus as their children aged.

The report argues that because women have different aspirations for their work life as they go down their career path, recruiters more aware of their specific interests will be more successful.

“The researchers also discovered that women’s career choices are motivated by a number of factors, and those shift and change throughout their careers. This reinforces the researchers’ conclusion that static hiring policies won’t appeal to women,” Trauth said.

Check out’s Careers Center for the latest news, analysis and commentary on careers for IT professionals.

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