The gender barrier alive and well in IT

You’d think we wouldn’t have to keep making the same argument, especially in the 21st century, especially in an industry dominated by Millennials, who pride themselves on their acceptance of diversity. But given the latest revelations about rampant sexism in Silicon Valley, we feel it behooves us to say one more time:  WE NEED WOMEN IN THE IT INDUSTRY.

So there aren’t many women in IT. So what? That was the comment a male programmer made many years ago during an interview of women who had chosen technology careers. (He was passing the interview room and decided to stop in and offer his unsolicited opinion.) His sentiment doesn’t appear to have changed over the years, and it is emblematic of an industry that does not welcome women into its inner circle, an industry that has actually seen a decline in women participants.

Consider these numbers. Some 57 percent of college graduates are women. But only about 14 percent of students who major in computer science are women. That’s down from 37 percent in 1985. It’s just as bad at the high school level. While more than half of advanced placement test takers are females, girls make up only about 19 percent of the computer science AP test takers.

Let’s go back to the question of why this is a bad thing. In the first place, by not encouraging women to enter the IT field, we are losing more than half of our intellectual resources. In what universe does it make sense to disregard, to discard that much talent based solely on gender difference?

Furthermore, women make up more than half the market that fuels our economy, particularly in technology-related areas. Women are the dominant users of the Internet, mobile phone services, text messaging, Skyping, social networking (except for LinkedIn), GPS, and e-readers. It simply makes no sense for an industry that relies on women as its major consumer to refuse to embrace women as its workers.

In addition, studies clearly show that women bring different sensibilities to both the cubicle and the boardroom than men. Women excel at persuasion, team building, and organization. They are great at communication, multi-tasking, and problem solving.  In fact, in a study reported in the Harvard Business Review, women scored higher than men in 12 out of 16 leadership competencies.

For the few women who do stick it out and embark on a career in IT, the prospects are often discouraging. Sexual harassment, wage discrimination, and stalled career paths are not uncommon. Attorney Kelly Dermody, head of the employment practice at the law firm representing women suing Microsoft for gender discrimination, said that she receives calls every week from women in the tech industry.  A recent Silicon Valley survey (titled “Elephant in the Valley”) reported that one in three women felt threatened and unsafe in their own workplace. Some 47 percent also said that they were given menial tasks that are not given to the males in the company, such as note-taking or ordering meals. And 66 percent felt excluded because they were not given the same opportunities to attend key networking opportunities as their male counterparts.

What’s the solution? Clearly, attitudes about women and technology need to change. We need to remember that diversity contributes to the success of any endeavor. It’s high time the IT industry got this message. Maybe they’d understand if we put it in a flow chart.