Home > Women In Tech > Women (or the lack of) In Tech: Why?

Women (or the lack of) In Tech: Why?

During CES 2012, CNET hosted a Women in Tech panel. Molly Wood, Executive Editor and Lindsey Turrentine, Editor-in-Chief, both of CNET, moderated. The panel consisted of Marissa Mayer, VP of Google; Padmasree Warrior, CTO of Cisco; and Caterina Fake, co-founder of Flickr. As the ladies spoke, I was drawn to their passion for involving more women in technology careers and how to keep them in the field. This hour-long discussion caused me to  think about my own career in tech and some of the struggles I have had, and in some cases, still encounter. I also started to think about how we can get women into tech, keep them, and support them in their journey to becoming top tech leaders.

After the panel had wrapped up, I watched the TED video of Sheryl Sandberg: Why we have too few women leaders (if you have never watched this, it’s 15 minutes you’ll never regret). I then asked myself, “Are more women leaving tech and how do we keep them in this exciting and fast-paced industry?”

First, a little personal background. I entered the tech field in my mid 20’s, which means I have been “geeking out” and getting paid for it for almost 20 years. I went to school for computer networking and hardware, and entered the workforce as a technician. I have worked for large corporations with thousands of employees, all the way down to a 12 person office; and now I work for myself as a small business IT consultant. My husband is also in the IT field, and we have two tween children. I have several Microsoft certifications to go with these numbers of years in the industry. These certifications include a Microsoft Certified System Engineer:Security (MCSE); Microsoft Certified IT Pro (MCITP); Certified Cisco Network Associate (CCNA) (expired); ITILv2, plus a handful of others; and I am a Microsoft Certified Trainer (MCT). I love tech, always have and always will.  I would like to see more females in the industry and in high tech positions.

Why don’t women stay in tech?

Women bring patience, compassion and (dare I say it) “soft” touch to what can be, a hard and cold industry.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2006) and Catalyst indicate that women comprise 27-29% of the computing workforce, and further research shows that these numbers are decreasing.

I think you have to be pretty gutsy to enter IT. It’s a demanding job, with a lot at stake. Most of the time, we are stuck in a cramped, cold basement office, waiting for something to happen. Typically, we have to rotate an on-call schedule, which seriously affects your home life. We continually need to stay on top of the current technologies. And it changes fast! This requires a lot of extra time, which most of us don’t have. We need to read manuals, magazines, websites and listen to podcasts. Did I mention exams? In order to keep our credentials current, we need to continue to write industry tests. Some of these exams we do once, others have to be rewritten when a new technology replaces an old one, or every X number of years (notice my expired CCNA) to maintain certification status. Most of this extra study and industry learning is done on our own time. When balancing a family, finding the time to just keep up can be difficult.

Another reason we may leave tech is the environment itself. The Center for Work-Life Policy in New York found that 63% of women in science, engineering and technology have experienced sexual harassment. That is a high percentage, but it makes sense. We tend to work with men most of the time, and there are often inappropriate remarks, jokes, pictures and videos. I found this type of behaviour more prevalent in the larger organizations than in small businesses. Being one of the few, or maybe the only female in the group, can be very isolating and lonely. We may tolerate more to fit in and have a buddy.

I am sure similar issues exist in other industries, but what keeps a woman in those fields, but not IT?

How do we keep women in technology related fields?

Statistics show 40% of women leave the tech industry. Personally, I see more women abandoning  the industry after they have had children. As a mom and an IT professional, I can understand why it is so hard to continue in the field once you become a parent. You are no longer “one of the guys” once you have children. There are so few women in the field to help and support the returning female IT professional.  I was never able to fit in when I returned from my first maternity leave. I attempted to return to work after my second child and knew it wasn’t going to work. There was no flexibility in my schedule for childcare. I left two weeks after returning. I altered my career path, chose a lower paying, and less challenging position for a 9-5 work day.

If they decide to stay, why will so few of rise to the top?

Again, is it the demanding working hours? The on-call schedules, lack of time to keep up, or the inability to race off and fix a critical issue a 2 A.M.? I don’t know the answer. My gut thinks it is the lack of women role models that hinder us from continuing our journey to the top. There are so few women at the top that we can model ourselves after. In my almost 20 years, I have only had one female manager who had a technical background. We need more women in the high level positions, like the women on the panel mentioned above, who are passionate and are willing be mentors. We need women who believe women in tech benefits society as a whole. We need managers who support and understand a woman in tech has different obstacles to overcome than her male counterparts.

How do we fix it?

If you are a woman in tech, stand up and help other young women discover and embrace their passion. There are several studies outlining why young girls do not consider entering the tech industry. I am not going to regurgitate those numbers; Google it for more information. Encourage young ladies to pursue their dreams. Yes, we know it has been, and will continue to be, a difficult road to travel. Hopefully it’s easier now than it was for those of us who have been in it for years. Let’s support the women who are already in the field. Encourage women in tech to talk and bond with each other.  Become a leader, mentor or friend. Be a young woman’s inspiration to live her dream and become tomorrows tech leader.

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