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What is Keeping More Women from Success in IT

A new study examines the factors that help women succeed in the IT workplace, and the barriers that remain to achieve gender equity in the field of computer science.

Analysis

The percentage of women in the field of computer science is shockingly low. Various labor estimates suggest that women make up between 18 percent and 25 percent of the workforce in computer science.

A new report by the non-profit Girls Who Code and Logitech attempts to identify what barriers exist for young women to have a successful career in IT. They surveyed 400 IT professionals who had worked in the field for less than ten years to identify key factors that helped women in their pursuit of a career in computer science.

What Helps Women Succeed in IT

Survey respondents identified five factors which helped propel women to envision an IT career in a predominantly male field:

THEY HAD CHEERLEADERS AND STRONG ROLE MODELS

96 percent of women who responded to the survey reported being encouraged to go into IT by family and friends. Survey respondents also said support from high school teachers was critical to envisioning a career in IT.

PASSION MATTERS

More female respondents (36 percent) than male respondents (25 percent) reported having a passion for computers. That increased emotional commitment may help buoy women who may be facing resistance in the IT workplace. That’s important, as ninety percent of women report experiencing microaggressions at work.

THEY ENJOY MISSION-DRIVEN WORK

Some 92 percent of female respondents report that the opportunity to make a meaningful impact to society is a driver for them in IT.

WOMEN-FRIENDLY NETWORKING HELPS WOMEN IN IT

Nearly twice as many female survey respondents than male respondents said they seek support through professional networks, and nearly half of female respondents reported taking part in women-centered computer science programs in college.

MEN MUST BE ALLIES

There is a mismatch in perceptions. While nine in ten women reported microaggressions at work, 80 percent of men said their workplace created a positive environment for women. However, when asked further about what barriers exist for women in IT, more than half of male respondents said women had fewer opportunities in IT and may feel intimidated by men at work. Fifty-six percent of male respondents even admitted they may have been patronizing to women at work.

Barriers Begin Early

Of course, this report is not the first to sound the alarm about the low percentage of women in the IT workforce. Women actually were an important part of the first wave of early computer work, and for decades the percentage growth of women entering the IT workforce outpaced the percentage growth of men entering the field, according to a Planet Money report. All that changed in the eighties with the advent of personal computers, which were advertised primarily toward men. Media depictions of the IT workforce in the eighties also were almost exclusively male, as well.

That lack of representation discouraged girls from envisioning a career in IT, the report said. Too often, women didn’t have a chance to succeed in the IT workplace because they weren’t even picturing themselves entering the field of computer science. A team of researchers from the University of Washington and the University of Houston believe there are some concrete steps that can be taken to combat this early chokepoint for gender equity in IT.

Small interventions may have a big impact, they said in a Scientific American column. For example, the researchers tracked high school and college students who were taking a computer science class. Some of the students were in a class in which there were stereotypical, male-centered images of computer science on the walls, and other students took a class with more gender-neutral images on the walls. What the researchers found was that girls in the classroom with gender-neutral images were more likely to later express interest in pursuing a career in computer science than those in the classroom with male-centered images.

Tweaks in workplace culture can help young women thrive in the IT field, too. With the Girls Who Code and Logitech survey, the report’s authors argue that IT workplaces which truly adopt Agile principles – openness to change, being people-centric, and a commitment to collaboration – can better foster women’s careers in IT.

What is clear is that it will take some intentional design of our classrooms and our workspaces to help more women feel like they belong in IT.

Refund Reason