IT Women: We Can Do Better
I'm old school. I still take notes by hand, with a mechanical pencil in a moleskin notebook. I've done this for years. My shelves have stacks of filled notebooks labelled with dates. I go back to them, but it is a terribly inefficient way of cataloging data. I've tried to make the transition to OneNote and the like, but I've been unsuccessful so far. That's not what this article is about though. Note to self: Write an article on meeting notes and why I can't seem to change or move forward.
Anyway, I told you that to tell you this: In my notebook at the bottom of most pages are two numbers. They look like this: 4/14, 2/50, etc. I started doing this years ago to take notice of a very real and still persisting problem in the IT world: missing women, especially women of color. Those numbers, for at least the past 10 years, have never reached the 50% mark. In fact, my observations reflect what the National Center of Women & Information Technology (NCWIT) reports, that only 26% of the computing workforce in 2019 were women. Only 3% were African American women. Only 7% were Asian women. Only 2% were Hispanic women.In 2013, after experiencing this phenomenon firsthand, I set out on a graduate research journey to try and understand why women are missing from technology careers. I published an article in 2015, "Women in IT: The Endangered Gender." What is interesting is that, in the past five years, we've seen no movement toward greater diversity. What is even more interesting is that the number of women in IT has consistently declined or remained the same since the mid-1990s. Today, 57% of professional roles are held by women, but only 26% of computing roles are held by women. In 2002, 35% of computing roles were held by women. In 1996, 41% of computing roles were held by women.
One might think that these numbers would improve in IT service management. After all, aren't we the "caregiving" part of IT? Surely more women fall into this area. Well, maybe a little, but not really. A survey done last year by SDI found that three quarters of respondents reported their teams consist of 30% women or less. Most ITSM teams are male dominated and have been for decades.What is shocking is that this trend continues even though research tells us that diverse teams far outperform less diverse teams. There are more reasons for diversity, too. Research it. I dare you. You'll find that diverse teams innovate more, are better problem solvers, have improved operational and financial performance, have lower project costs, and definitely have improved morale and engagement.
So, the big question is WHY? Research for the last 20 years has consistently shown there are two big reasons for the issue. Those reasons are input and throughput. Input means there simply aren't that many women entering this career path. Some of it goes all the way back to early childhood when boys are more aggressively introduced to technology than girls. It continues in college when girls are less likely to go toward technology majors because they do not see female role models in the field and perceive IT as a male job.Throughput means women that enter the career path simply aren't staying. The reasons cited for this include the aforementioned male environment and lack of role models but add continued gender bias in the workplace, work life balance issues, lack of networking and social capital.
How do we address it? There are many things that we can do at both an individual and an institutional level. I suggest you start with the following steps.
First and foremost, we have to acknowledge that it has been and still is a problem. We need to name it and talk about it. Make it a subject that people aren't whispering about. Instead, make it a subject people talk about. Have town halls, lunch and learns, monthly meetings to discuss, brainstorm and build a community.
Make a personal commitment to help and ask for a commitment from the top down in your organization. You can't get what you don't ask for. Go to your boss and ask if they will support you. Ask them to go with you to their boss and ask them to support you. If you're comfortable, make an appointment with your CIO and ask them to support you. That's not all. Go with a plan. Brainstorm some ideas. Ask if you can have monthly meetings. Ask for money to support your meetings. Again, you can't get what you don't ask for.
#3: Get Resources
Gather resources and share information on implicit and unconscious bias. Talk to Human Resources. I bet they'll help. Visit Project Implicit to take tests about your own unknown implicit bias.
#4: Involve Men
This isn't just a woman problem. This is an everyone problem. Get men involved. Invite them to hear and discuss the issue. Make sure they get training and participate.
#5: Identify Role Models
Look for women role models in and out of your organization. Ask them if you can interview them for a newsletter or have them come talk to a group of employees that are interested.
Consider mentoring and/or organizing a mentoring consortium for women.
#7: Amplify Women's Voices
I have a goal to build up at least one woman a day at work. It sounds kind of silly, but it is definitely effective. You might think I'd have to flatter or over exaggerate to make this happen, but I do not. It's easy to find things when you're looking. I look for great things the women I work with do, and every day there's something. I bet you'll notice it, too. Noticing isn't enough though. You have to tell others about it and tell them you noticed. In meetings or coffee conversations, try these:
I want to emphasize what _____ said. It really demonstrated how _____.
I really appreciate your comment, ____. Your idea could really help us ____.
As ____ said, we can improve in this area by ____.
____'s idea of ____ could be the solution to ____.
Maya Angelou said "Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better." We know better. Let's do better. Let's make sure the next decade brings more women into our field and keeps the very talented women who are already there.