Gender Gap in IT Labor Market Remains Wide: Survey

A survey of IT executives by a recruitment firm shows the IT labor market is tighter than the overall market, but that women remain underrepresented in the ranks of IT workers, particularly in management positions.

REDWOOD CITY, CALIF.-A survey of the IT labor market shows high demand and short supply for IT professionals, but that the shortage is exacerbated by the fact that relatively few women are in the profession.

The survey of 2,400 IT managers globally by Harvey Nash, a global staffing services firm, revealed that 35 percent of them say they have no women in IT management roles in their organization and that 24 percent have no women on any of their technical teams.

Also, despite the fact that about 50 percent of college graduates are women, relatively few of them pursue careers in IT, said Bob Miano, president and CEO of Harvey Nash USA, who presented the survey results at an event Aug. 22 in Redwood City, Calif.

"People we talked to at the colleges told us, 'A lot of women think that IT people are nerdy.' I can't put it any more simply than that," Miano said.

The "nerdy" rap was greeted with skepticism by Beth Devin, the chief information officer (CIO) and chief technology officer (CTO) of, who spoke at the event. Manilla is a consumer cloud service for storing personal account information, such as on bank or investment accounts, bills, frequent flier miles or other data.

Devin says she personally mentors women in her IT department to encourage them to stay in the profession.

"I hold onto them tight and I spend a lot of extra time with them … and hope that they stay. [With me] they can see someone they can relate to in the organization," she said.

High profile women executives in the tech industry also serve as examples of what other women can achieve, she added, singling out Marissa Mayer, the new CEO of Yahoo, as a pertinent example.

Mayer moved to Yahoo July 17 from Google, where she was already a high profile female executive in charge of Google's location-based services. She brings to Yahoo one of the qualities that the Harvey Nash survey identified as key to the success of women in IT.

The survey showed the following: 59 percent of respondents consider women good at promoting "team cohesion and morale" versus 49 percent who said that of men; 59 percent said women excel at "getting the job done," versus just 29 percent who said that of men; and 55 percent said women bring "creativity and innovation" to the organization versus just 43 percent who said that of men.

To many in the industry Yahoo "looked like it was slowly deteriorating," Devin said. "Then all of a sudden Marissa Mayer is the CEO. All of a sudden it was a crossover [event] like when a country musician becomes a rock musician."

Mayer began by taking steps to improve morale by making food in the cafeteria free and by giving employees the choice of other smartphones than their company-issued BlackBerrys, said Sean Knapp, co-founder and CTO of Ooyala, a provider of online video technology, analytics and services.

"When she started at the company she didn't start by fixing the P&L [profit and loss] or the organizational structure. She actually started to fix the culture," Knapp said.

The gender issue aside, the Harvey Nash survey revealed a shortage of IT professionals generally. While the U.S. unemployment rate is 8.3 percent and the California rate is 10.7 percent, the unemployment rate in the IT industry is only 4 percent, said Miano.

"Four percent is about as tight a labor market as you can get," he said.

Among the reasons for the shortage is a decline in the number of college graduates going into what he called the fields of science, mathematics, engineering and technology (SMET). In the U.S. only 15 percent of graduates go into SMET versus 80 percent in Vietnam. Harvey Nash has a large operation in Vietnam where it does offshoring for client firms.

The IT labor market is being further strained by a reduction in the number of H-1B visas issued by the U.S. government to bring experienced technology workers here from places like India and China to work for U.S. companies, Miano said. The number of H-1B visas issued today is down to 65,000 a year from a peak of 180,000 per year during the dot-com boom. A third factor is that baby boomers are reaching retirement age, further reducing the available supply.