Where Have All The Women Gone?

Are unwelcoming males creating an IT female brain drain?
Posted July 12, 2005
By

Roy Mark


It appears women are leaving the American IT workforce faster than male executives can say, ''Go fetch me a beer, Darlin.'' But apparently, in the Silicon Valley, ''You go, girl!'' means, ''We're outta here.''

The Information Technology Association of America (ITAA) recently published a gender diversity study in IT and the numbers are sobering: The percentage of women in the IT workforce declined by almost 20 percent over the last decade, from a high of 41 percent in 1996 to 32.4 percent in 2004.

Worse, the ITAA figures show ''no progress'' in the numbers of women in the professional or management ranks from the 25.4 percent mark achieved in 2002. And, the study claims, when women leave the IT field, they're not likely to come back.

In other words, there is a female brain drain occurring in technology. This isn't about educating and training more young women in engineering and science, worthy goal that it is. It is about women who already have those degrees taking their skills to a climate that is more likely than tech to be respectful.

This is happening at a time when Bill Gates, Craig Barrett and John Chambers, et al., are trooping to Capitol Hill to decry the declining American IT talent pool. They want relaxed immigration rules. They want more tax dollars invested in science and technology. They want outsourcing.

Perhaps they should also call for an equal playing field among the sexes.

The IT industry prides itself as a working model for the new global economy, blind to everything but talent and hard work. Tech, though, is taking a big hike on walking the walk when it comes to women.

''Women don't feel valued by IT. They are forced into being a certain type of person, i.e. a white male model: linear, analytical, 24/7, in-your-face, your-job-is-your life,'' says Barbara Annis, author of Same Words, Different Language. ''Women don't see a future for themselves [in IT] as they are.''

Which is why some of the best and brightest are dumping the Silicon Valley for equally lucrative and more fulfilling careers in other fields.

''Women do not thrive in that [IT] role and if that's what it takes, women leaders in IT don't want to be that way,'' continued Annis, who is a diversity consultant to a number of the IT industry's largest corporations.

For women in lower and middle management, in particular, ''that way'' means being one of the boys.

As one internetnews.com reader recently wrote, ''IT tends to attract a kind of independent guy who wants to hang around with other guys establishing a kind of high school locker room culture.''

HR, you'll be glad to know, appears to be working those locker rooms. ''The 'guys' know how to avoid clearly stepping over the line legally, but male IT guy culture is now very hostile to women,'' the writer added.

Generalities aside, to one degree or another, other women in IT echo her sentiments daily. And they are responding to that male attitude with their feet. Fed up with the locker room attitude, women are forming their own businesses or taking their degrees and technical abilities to fields such as banking or marketing.

Executive management is certainly not unaware of this problem. Annis says they are saying all the right things, printing a lot of ''diversity is good'' materials and holding roundtables, seminars and other ''we care'' whatnots. Of course, they preach for lots and lots of tax dollars to train young women in math and science.

Wouldn't more women somewhere down the IT line be the answer? After all, if we just had more women to choose from, the logic seems to go, maybe we wouldn't be losing so many talented women now.

''It's not about getting enough women in the feeder pool,'' Annis says of the current exodus of female IT management talent. It's all about current attitude and corporate culture, she contends.

Meanwhile, the female brain drain continues.

This article was first published on internetnews.com.






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