Women in I.T.: Where the Girls Aren’t

Since 2000, the number of women working in information technology has declined, both in absolute numbers and as a percentage of IT professionals. Data from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that 984,000 women worked in eight IT categories in 2000, accounting for 28.9 percent of all employed IT workers. The corresponding numbers for 2006, when overall IT employment hit an all-time high of nearly 3.47 million, show a 7.7 percent drop from 2000, with 908,000 women working in IT, or just 26.2 percent of the total.

Why the big decline? Nobody yet has firm answers to what is probably a multifaceted problem. For one thing, says a report from IT advisory firm Cutter Consortium, the issue is just coming to light. “The exodus has been quiet,” write authors Lynne Ellyn and Christine Davis. “Women are not complaining very loudly because, today, they have many options.”

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Numbers Show Big Decline of Women in IT

Ellyn and Davis muse: “Is it because they have become intolerant of working in an environment where they are not respected, or because they find it to be a field that does not support a balanced lifestyle? Perhaps it’s due to the diminishing opportunities in IT? Or, could it be that IT suffers from a social stigma or perception that is repelling young women away?” Ellyn continues, “I think this trend is an indictment of the often abrasive experience women have in the IT arena. As I reflect on this disturbing trend, I recall countless incidences where women have been discounted and marginalized while struggling to balance family and work.” Also, she writes, “the image of the ‘computer guy’ is very unappealing to young women.”

When we first posted these numbers online, CIO Insight received a lot of reader feedback. Among individual reasons cited by women who contacted us were discrimination and stereotyping; availability of other attractive career paths; the idea that men in IT are nerds; and difficulty dealing with men from other cultures who are uncomfortable working with women. That’s all anecdotal evidence; much work remains to be done on the question. In the meantime, says the Cutter report: “The loss of women from the IT landscape is bad news for business.”

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