I love that two of Stephen's latest interviews of industry leaders have been interviews with women. Both Teresa Hennig and Barb Bowman have established themselves as experts in their areas and are great role models for young women contemplating a career in technology. And heaven knows there certainly isn't any great surplus of female role models or mentors in this field!
When I went through for my undergraduate degree in Computer Science in the late 80's/early 90's, there were more women in my class than in any of the classes before us. Even though that still only constituted a handful, it seemed that within a few year the gender discrepancy would disappear altogether. Yet here we are 15 years later and not only is there still a imbalance, but there are actually less women going into technology than ever before. As I ponder this, there are 2 questions that strike me as particularly significant. I'm going to talk about the first question here and save the second for a "Part 2" post.
Two separate events seem to be happening to create this situation.
First, young women aren't opting to study computer science. I've done a little unscientific research of my own and asked the few female students I've encountered at recent technology events I've attended why they think that more women aren't studying technology and going into technical fields. It was interesting to note that besides the Women in Technology event which was obviously targeting women in the field, most of the female students I encountered weren't in computer science or a technology discipline. Most were at the event with their boyfriend/brother/friend. The consensus among these women was that computer science just isn't attractive to the female gender.
Why is that? It attracted me and my fellow female students in the late 80's. Has something changed? Perhaps it's just that there are so many other alternatives. Or perhaps this next generation has seen the long hours that most IT professionals and developers put into their jobs and have decided to choose an area of study that allows for a better quality of life.
What? They don't think spending hours in a basement somewhere tinkering with code and computer hardware a quality way to spend their life?
Secondly, once in IT careers, more women are leaving. So while less women are entering IT there also seems to be an exodus of women leaving.
Women are vacating technology positions at a significant rate. But their reasons why are still unclear.
Basically, no one knows why but there is all sorts of speculation. I think that some women become disillusioned. They enter the field thinking that they'll be trailblazers and make a difference and find that it's more difficult and daunting then they thought. Often a women will leave to have children and either stay home to care for her family or decide to change to a career that's more flexible. It's hard to be on call and paged in the middle of the night when you have a family to care for as well. And although some men step into the role of the primary caregiver, it's still primarily the function of the mother, a function many women take great pleasure in and would be loath to give up. As well, getting back into a technology career after taking maternity leave can be difficult simply due to the rapid changes in the industry.
The next question I have to ask is "So what?". Does it really matter that less women are in IT and that it's a male dominated field? Think on that for a bit. I'll post part 2 in a few days and let you know what I think.