Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Where have all the women gone?

A San Jose Mercury News story, buttressed by statistics from the ITAA, reiterates what many in the field have been saying: Women are leaving (or not joining) the information technology field, and the solutions tried so far are not working.
The percentage of women in information technology has dropped sharply since 1996, according to a report being released today.

Women held 32.4 percent of IT jobs in 2004, down from 41 percent eight years earlier, despite holding steady in the overall workforce. And the percentages of Latinos and African-Americans in IT jobs still lag far behind their representation in the workforce, according to the report by the Information Technology Association of America...

Carolyn Leighton, chair of Women In Technology International, is surprised at the loss of ground.

"IT is such a critical piece of every single industry, every size business," she said. "Normally when there's such a high demand, it motivates people to move into that field."

But there are still persistent barriers, such as the lower enrollment of girls in math and science classes and stereotypes that women are less able at math and science. At Silicon Valley's High Tech U this week, an introductory computer science program for high school students, only eight of the 28 participants are girls...

When it comes to racial diversity, the presence of African-Americans in IT slid from 9.1 percent in 1996 to 8.3 percent in 2004. They held steady in the overall workforce.

The Latino presence increased slightly in both IT and the workforce. But Latinos made up only 6.4 percent of IT workers, compared with 12.9 percent of the workforce.

The reasons may include barriers such as a lack of mentors and role models in corporate management, negative perceptions of IT work as isolating and geeky, and again, the lack of student enrollment in math and science classes...

The report showed that on average IT workers are getting older. The percentage of IT workers 45 and older jumped from 25.3 in 1996 to 35.1 in 2004. It could be that IT employers have come to appreciate the value of more seasoned employees. Or it could be that employees now feel the need to work to a later age.



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