Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Women In IT: Time to Reverse the Downward Trends

By Nancy Hammervik
(originally posted April 17, 2012 at Channel Partners Peer to Peer Blog)

The recent elevation of Virginia M. Rometty to CEO of IBM is another positive sign of the advances women have made in the business community over the past couple of decades. She joins a host of high-profile female executives in the IT industry, including Ursula Burns at Xerox, Toni Clayton Hine at CA Technologies, Juliann Larimer at Motorola, Julie Parrish at NetApp, Luanne Tierney at Juniper Networks and Meg Whitman at HP.

Of course, this is just a sampling of the women making key decisions in technology — and their contributions extend way beyond the vendor boardroom. Who can forget IT Hall of Fame recipient Grace Hopper, who spent a half-century helping to keep our country on the leading edge of technology through her research and innovation. She invented the compiler and, in the process, spawned the universal programming language COBOL and modern programming. Hopper dedicated more than 40 years to the U.S. Navy and achieved the rank of Rear Admiral, Lower Half, retiring in 1986 as the nation’s oldest active officer.

While their accomplishments encourage women of all ages, female participation rates in the IT industry are on the decline. Despite the growth in their overall numbers, the percentage of women in computer sciences (compared to men) has been steadily shrinking for several years. While women accounted for 47 percent of the total U.S. labor force in January, they comprised just 28 percent of core IT occupations, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Research from the National Center for Women & Information Technology shows a significant disparity in the number of undergraduate computer science degrees going to women — just 18 percent in 2009 — compared to men. That’s especially discouraging when women garnered 57 percent of all undergraduate degrees that year!

Experts point out a number of reasons for this decline, including unconscious bias, gender pay gaps, the lack of role models and mentors, poor supervisory relationships and competing responsibilities. While each may play a part in the diminishing number of women in IT, one thing is clear: The industry needs more female involvement. At a time when women are beginning to assume IT leadership positions, their scarcity at lower levels is sure to catch up in a few years and counter all their gains. That loss will affect everyone in the industry, reducing the diversity of the workforce as well as the creative ideas and viewpoints that come with it.

Help Us Swing the Trends

That’s why CompTIA created the Advancing Women in IT Community (AWIT). This new member-driven group is committed to empowering women with the knowledge and skills needed to help them build successful IT careers. AWIT will serve as a vital information resource, provide mentorship and networking opportunities for its members, and inspire the next generation of female IT leaders. Initiatives and programs will be a key focus of their activities, as will promoting legislation that helps improve the IT industry opportunities for women.

The CompTIA Advancing Women in IT Community is already off to a great start, with members in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and South Africa. Thanks to the dedication and hard work of its founders, interest in the group is building quickly, with a wide range of individuals with a variety of backgrounds — including men concerned with creating a more diverse IT workforce.

The chair of the new community is longtime industry advocate Sandy Ashworth, global director of channel relations and warranty for Unisys Corporation. With the added assistance of vice chair Jean Mork Bredenson, president of SERVICE 800, the group is sure to start off with a flurry of activities. Their most recent face-to-face meeting was at the CompTIA Annual Member Meeting, April 10-12, in Chicago.

Want to learn more about the CompTIA Advancing Women in IT Community (and yes, men are welcome to join, too)? Find out more at the community website.

Nancy Hammervik is senior vice president, industry relations, CompTIA.

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