20 Percent. That is the national employment average for women who work in the Information Technology sector, yet women make up over half of the workforce in the United States. The percentage is even lower for women who work in cybersecurity. Technology is advancing every day at a rapid rate and the progress of women in technology appears to be moving at a glacial pace. A simple explanation may be that women do not like technology, and therefore choose not to enter the field. Perhaps that explanation would have sufficed two or three decades ago, but it proves to be a fallacy today.
What is the Problem?
Decades of gender conditioning has been shown to negatively impact girls at young ages. For decades, girls have been boxed into gender stereotypes in several instances, but the emphasis on their future professions is of prominent importance. Careers and jobs allow individuals a certain level of freedom and autonomy to pay bills, live well, and make an impact in society. Traditionally, women and girls were expected to follow societal norms by entering certain fields like teaching or nursing. Studies have shown that girls enjoy learning STEM subjects, but get discouraged to do so from family members, educators, or fellow classmates.
“Young girls have been discouraged from pursuing STEM as early as elementary,” according to a study by the Girl Scout Research Institute. The same study also noted that girls develop interest in STEM at age 11 but lose interest at age 15.
According to a relational study by Blackburn and Jarman, the century-long progression of gendered occupations has led to pay inequity and inequality in certain male-dominated fields.
The tech industry is bustling and in-demand of personnel for jobs. The national unemployment rate in the computer science field is half the national average of four percent. There are literally not enough people to fill jobs in technology! Especially those in the cybersecurity sector. There is a lot of untapped potential running through the fingers of women everywhere.
Although women constitute over half of the workforce, they still receive lower wages than their male-counterparts, work in lower-paying jobs than men, and are significantly absent from male-dominate fields like Information Technology. According to the Department of Labor, the statistics are even more alarming for women in the cybersecurity field, with only 12 percent of women taking up space in the industry. The cybersecurity field is growing rapidly as more and more of our lives become rooted in technology. There are several job openings in cybersecurity and not enough people to fill them, women are missing out on a huge professional opportunity. The average median salary for an Information Security Analyst is $98,350 per year. Furthermore, the DOL has projected security analyst jobs to grow by 28 percent in a ten-year period. In order to take advantage of this growth opportunity, women can certainly transition into the IT field as adults, but there also needs to be systematic education and culture reform in order to make a sustainable change.
Breaking the Gendered Cycle
There are several steps that can be taken to make meaningful change for Information Technology Inclusion.
Early Education and Development
Technology will continue to be evolving at a rapid pace, so it is imperative that schools invest in practical hands-on experience in STEM subjects, at an early developmental age. Education has made improvements in as little as ten years. More students are taking information technology classes as early as third grade and many teachers can utilize tech in their everyday lesson plans. However, not all schools are created equally. Most underserved and low-income communities do not have any IT classes, making those students who wish to enter the field at a disadvantage. The only way for progress to take hold, is to ensure that steps are made on an educational policy basis to ensure that no one is left out in this digital age. Furthermore, educators must STOP discouraging girls from pursuing the STEM field. In fact, girls must be cultivated in the STEM fields and be shown that they too have every right and ability to participate! There is nothing wrong with teaching; it is a noble profession. However, how many girls growing up have heard from family members: “why don’t you just become a teacher” when they were not sure of which path to take. What if girls were told: “why don’t you just become a cybersecurity analyst” instead? This type of societal change must happen!
Diverse Female Mentors
When individuals visualize a person, who looks like them working in the IT field, they can see that their career aspirations are valid and valuable. Furthermore, mentors provide the necessary feedback and communication to help their mentee achieve their career goals. In addition, women in tech have the insight and experience to help women and girls navigate some rocky terrain. The more women in tech, the more this is normalized until young girls won’t even think twice about entering the field. All it takes is change!
Instituting a culture of change in Tech companies
It is no secret that Information Technology is still very much a boy’s club. Some tech companies have lunch at strip-clubs and turn a blind eye to inappropriate workplace behavior. Tech companies must engage in effective recruiting of women. Having a more inclusive environment can start by simply having more women working at the company. Most women would not feel comfortable working in an environment where they are one in a handful of women. Furthermore, tech companies must instill a positive culture that values the abilities and skills of women in the field. According to an article by Business Insider, a prominent Tech CEO said that he did not want to lower his standards to hire women. While this misogyny persists in high places and companies across the country, the only remedy is to ensure that women have the equal opportunity to pursue promotions. Again, women are more likely to enter a company if there are women in upper-management. Of course, all these changes cannot be implemented unless there are safeguards in place to prevent and punish sexual assault and gender biases in the workplace. Companies like Intuit, CITI, and Salesforce have all made commitments to recruit, train, and retain more women in their IT departments. Which companies will follow suit?
The only way to increase women in tech to fifty percent is to ensure that the gendered cycle of employment in the tech industry is broken! This will not happen overnight, but the more girls who are encouraged to take a coding class in elementary school and the more women who decide to go for that CIO promotion, the more it will help close the gap.
Authored by Chelsea Gioffre