Women Underrepresented in High-Tech Jobs, IT Management

By Corinne Bernstein  |  Posted 2013-03-25

Women Underrepresented in High-Tech Jobs, IT Management

Although money may be the root of many world problems, gender equality in high-tech employment is less a matter of salary than a question of why fewer women are in IT management positions—and in IT overall.

The issue is particularly poignant in light of what business leaders and employment experts point to as a very real gap in IT skills. On one hand, the demand for IT talent far exceeds the supply of skilled workers. On the other, attracting young people to the field, particularly young women, is challenging.

The number of women working in IT has grown but remains a small percentage of the overall IT workforce—less than a third, by most counts, and a figure that has held steady for several years. While women in the field earn the same as men with equivalent job titles, skills and education, female IT professionals are underrepresented in higher-paying management positions.

"The data we looked at doesn't suggest why. It doesn't say there is a glass ceiling or a tracking issue [for women]," Tom Silver, senior vice president at career and employment site Dice, told eWEEK. "But we know that technology has been male-dominated for some time. Men tend to be in higher-level positions that pay more.

"It's not so much about a pay gap," Silver said. "It's really a position gap. As far as why, the data doesn't give us a clear answer to that."

Average annual salaries for men in IT, at $95, 929, outpace the mean for female IT professionals, at $87,527—according to Dice's latest salary survey—but that difference stems from the fact that the two groups tend to hold different jobs within IT.

The No. 1 title for women is project manager, which is third for men, according to Dice. In second place for women is business analyst; oddly, third is "other." Fourth for women is Q/A tester, and fifth is technical recruiter.

Yet the most frequently held position for males in technology is software engineer, and men are more likely than women to have titles such as vice president, CIO and CTO, according to Dice.

"Job for job, title for title, and education for education, there is no gap in IT salaries," said Anna Frazzetto, senior vice president and managing director of International Technology Solutions for IT staffing firm Harvey Nash plc. "However, as you go up the ladder, there is a bit of a change," Frazzetto told eWEEK. "In managerial roles, we do see some gap," with women earning less because at that stage, "you go from objectivity to subjectivity."

Technology leaders acknowledge the gender gap in hiring women, particularly as managers. Some such as Cisco Systems CEO John Chambers said their companies can do better at creating a more favorable working environment for women.

Chambers said in an email—obtained by the news site AllThingsD—that less than one-fourth of Cisco employees are women, and 20 percent of the 1 million students at the company's networking academy are women.

Approximately 510,700 women worked in computer systems design and related services in January 2013, up 42 percent from January 2003, according to Dice's tally of U.S. Labor Department data. The total number of workers in those sectors reached 1,663,600 as of January 2013, up 49 percent from 10 years earlier. 

As of January, women accounted for about 31 percent of the IT workforce—a percentage that has fluctuated little since 2008, by Dice's calculations.

If attracting women—who tend to enter technology in non-programming jobs such as sales, marketing or project management—to IT is hard, keeping them in the field and recruiting young women to technology careers is an even greater challenge, said Nancy Hammervik, senior vice president for industry relations at CompTIA, an association for the IT industry.

"Young girls are not going for programming because they feel it's not cool or too hard," Hammervik told eWEEK.

In a 2012 survey of teens and young adults, CompTIA found that 53 percent of the females and 28 percent of the males were not interested in the IT field, but nearly equal percentages of males and females (46 percent and 48 percent) said they did not know enough about the IT field. For both sexes, similar percentages said they were not good at math and science, and that they didn't want to sit at a desk all day.

Women Underrepresented in High-Tech Jobs, IT Management

"The incoming crop of students going for computer science and other IT-related degrees is smaller than it should be, but many students don't realize that computer programming is not a mathematics type career," said Jean Mork Bredeson, who serves on CompTIA's Community for Advancing Women in IT. "It involves more logical thinking," said Bredeson, who is also president of SERVICE 800, a research company that measures customer service for the tech industry. "It involves being a communicator and using tools to solve problems.”

Ironically, employment experts say recruiters cannot fill many types of fast-growing IT jobs quickly enough. They see a skills gap for positions related to big data, mobile technology, cloud computing and security. Demand also outweighs supply for HTML 5, Hadoop and .NET capabilities.

"At any given time, there are more than 400,000 IT positions open, but fewer students are interested in going into STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] fields, and a large percentage of those who do wind up not graduating," CompTIA's Hammervik said.

The shortage creates opportunities for women, Hammervik said, adding that continued efforts to train, recruit and certify male and female IT workers are essential—particularly in a marketplace that's so skills driven.

Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg in her controversial book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead emphasizes the importance of tapping "the entire pool of human resources and talent."

Sandberg wrote: "The laws of economics and many studies of diversity tell us that if we tapped the entire pool of human resources and talent, our collective performance would improve. …When more people get in the race, more records will be broken. And the achievements will extend beyond those individuals to benefit us all."

A study conducted last year by Harvey Nash plc revealed that 51 percent of CIOs polled think relationships "between IT and the business" improve by hiring more women. Yet more than one-third of CIOs confirmed there were no women in management IT roles in their organizations, and nearly one-fourth of CIOs had no women on their technical teams.

"The issue is diversity," said Frazzetto of Harvey Nash plc. "When you have a diverse group—whether it's a mixture of gender, cultural background, age or other qualities—it's a more innovative group. You want the most qualified person to fill a position, but there needs to be a balance."

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