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Women and the future of IT

Thornton May | Jan. 8, 2015
The industry’s attitude toward women has to change, just as much as women’s attitude toward the industry and STEM education has to be revised. The key will be starting when they’re young.

Historical perspective
The term "computer" in the late 1940s and early 1950s was a job description like "mechanic" or "secretary." It referenced anyone who used a mechanical device to do arithmetic calculations. In the immediate postwar world, women dominated the "computer" job category. Most "computers" were women. Things have changed. Women have left the field. 

Becky Blalock has done her historical homework. She notes that women were not included in the original affirmative action legislation. Indeed, prior to 1964 it was perfectly legal and not that uncommon for an employer to say, "I am not going to hire you because you are a woman." 

We have a pipeline problem (statistics from Girls Who Code)
"From the middle school computer lab to the upper echelons of Silicon Valley, the tech world has been a boys club for too long," says Reshma Saujani, founder and CEO of Girls Who Code. The U.S. Department of Labor projects that by 2020, there will be 1.4 million computer specialist job openings. Yet U.S. universities are expected to produce only enough qualified graduates to fill 29% of these jobs. Sixty percent of the people in college today are women. Yet women today represent just 12% of all computer science graduates. In 1984, they represented 37%. We appear to be losing ground. Our industry needs to do something to enlarge the IT talent pool. 

Women make up half of the U.S. workforce, but hold just 25% of the jobs in technical or computing fields. In the U.K., women make up 47% of the working population, yet only 14% of them work in IT. In a room full of 25 engineers, only three will be women. "You would never say, I can't read.' That's just unacceptable in society," Saujani says. "But it's acceptable in society for a girl to say, I hate math' or I'm not good at math.'" This has to change. 

In middle school, 74% of girls express interest in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), but when choosing a college major, just 0.3% of high school girls select computer science. A 2013 CompTIA Survey of 1,000 teens and young adults in North America discovered that:

  • 95% of girls like technology
  • 92% of girls have helped a family member or friend with a technical issue
  • Only 9% want a career in IT
  • 38% said probably not
  • 53% said definitely not

Middle school is thought by many researchers to be where the challenge of women in IT is most critical. This is where it begins, where girls are mistakenly made to believe that technology is something they consume, not create. Middle school girls need to be given the chance to sit with other girls and code. No judgment. No labels. No grades. Just turn on the computer and try this coding program.

 

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