Are There Too Many Women in IT?: Page 2

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I also disagree with Hewlett’s assertion that long hours in IT are the result of “culture.” It’s clearly the result of the growing complexity of IT systems, the growing expectations on the part of business, the competitiveness of the industry and periodic and ruthless rounds of cost-cutting. Long hours are, for the foreseeable future, an unfortunate reality in IT, and changing workplace “culture” won’t change this stark reality.

The Affirmative Action Solution

Carnegie Mellon University instituted a form of gender affirmative action in order to attract more women. For example, they de-emphasized prior experience in programming as a criterion for acceptance. To compensate, they created freshman-level accelerated programming classes to bring the programming newbies up to speed with students with prior coding experience. The program is considered a success and a model for other universities.

But what's wrong with this picture?

The Carnegie program makes the same mistake as some other gender-balancing initiatives: It seeks to boost the percentage of women by focusing on those women who, deep down, may not be as interested in IT as the people they'll be competing against in school and in the workplace. These less interested people are likely to fail or quit at higher rates than the deeply interested and self-motivated people, regardless of gender.

Question: With all the free programming tools, information and ideas available nowadays online, what kind of person makes it to the age of 18 without ever doing any programming? Answer: Someone who’s just not that interested in programming.

Have any of those millions being thrown around to understand IT gender imbalance been spent to study the later success in IT between teens motivated to learn programming on their own compared with teens without such motivation?

I really don't know why more boys than girls choose to study IT, choose careers in IT and stay with IT once the career has started – and I confess I have no solution to offer. I'm sure stereotyping, sexism and other factors play a role. But I also believe that pressuring girls - or boys, for that matter - into careers they won't like isn't helping anyone. Dangling false motives - such as role models and the countering of stereotypes - won't help anyone, either. They've got to love the machines, the systems and the act of complex-problem solving or they're unlikely to enjoy or succeed in IT.

As in all fields, yes, we should support the elimination of sexism, unfair pay and glass-ceiling office politics. But let's not set up girls for failure by pushing them into a career they're really not that interested in.

Are there too many women in IT? Of course not. But I fear there may be too many women in IT who have been coaxed by false inducements into an unhappy career by well-intentioned people seeking gender balance.

Also see:

Omigod! There’s a Woman in the Data Center!

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Tags: management, IT, marketing, policy, Gartner

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