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Battling gender bias in IT

Sharon Florentine | Nov. 4, 2016
You can’t aspire to be what you can’t see. To get more women into IT careers, girls and young women will need role models, mentors and public examples of success.

“There are some obvious systemic issues here that the research shows, including that parents of boys are more aggressive in introducing technology to their child than parents of girls,” April says. “That starts a domino effect that’s compounded when they don’t see women in these roles growing up, and then they aren’t exposed to courses and curriculum around technology — it just snowballs.”

According to CompTIA, only 37 percent of the girls who participated in the survey said they know a family member or friend who works in IT. And girls who have taken a technology class are only slightly more likely than those who haven’t to consider a career in IT.

The good news is that among girls who have considered an IT career, 60 percent say they do know a family member or friend who works in the industry. But on the flip side, 69 percent of the girls surveyed said they haven’t considered an IT career because they don’t know what opportunities are available.

April says that this is where the stereotypes born of the 1980s marketing efforts come into play. The research shows that girls believe a job in tech means being isolated and sedentary in front of a computer screen for 40 hours a week. And even among those who’ve taken a technology class, less than half said they believe their skills would be right for an IT job.

“We really need more women who are in the industry, who are doing the work, to stand up and be visible and show the next generation that they have role models and people like them they can emulate,” April says.

Increasing exposure

another recent study backs up this assertion. Based on a survey of 1,100 members of Women in Technology International (WITI) that was conducted in April and May 2016, the Wanted: Women in STEM study, from 451 Research, WITI and Robert Half Technology, found that exposure to science and math in grade school helps girls make a stronger connection to technology and helps them develop the confidence to consider careers in science, technology, engineering or math (the so-called STEM fields). For example, 12 percent of the respondents said they took interest in a STEM field in grade school and 30 percent said they did so in high school, while only 21 percent said their interest began in college.

Moreover, 50 percent of the respondents said that their fathers worked in STEM fields while only 8 percent said their mothers did; only 4 percent said both of their parents worked in STEM, and 38 percent said neither parent worked in those fields. For those whose parents didn’t work in STEM fields, exposure to those disciplines in school or in the community was a crucial aspect of their decision to pursue careers in a science- or math-related field.

 

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