Where have all the women gone?

Even as technology jobs are booming, the number of women in the field continues to decline.


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Linda Drumright, VP of engineering, DigitalThink, wanted a career in IT since 7th grade.
When Linda Drumright was 12 years old, her father, an industrial engineer, brought home a professional development pamphlet from IBM Corp. The pamphlet sang the praises of a career in technology and made specific note of the fact that there were not a lot of women in the field.

When Drumright saw it, something immediately clicked for the seventh grader.

"I thought, 'That is for me,'" says Drumright, now 39 and vice president of engineering at DigitalThink Inc. in San Francisco. "That was the day I decided what I was going to do, and from that moment I focused on that."

Drumright, who says she's a person who "always likes to go first," realized that technology could offer her a career in a wide-open field, with high salaries and lots of flexibility.

At a Glance

DigitalThink Inc.

The company: Based in San Francisco, DigitalThink Inc. designs and develops custom-built Web-based training classes for Fortune 1000 companies. Firms can use DigitalThink's custom-built courses for training on everything from Java programming to how to search on the Web.

The problem: With a huge demand for skilled and trained technical staff, DigitalThink realizes the need to attract women to its ranks--and keep them.

The solution: Linda Drumright, the firm's vice president of engineering, has started two programs to support new employees on her staff: mentors and buddies. In the mentor program, new employees are paired with a more experienced co-worker. Although she doesn't always make mentor assignments based on gender, she looks for mentors who would make a good role model for the new employee.

The buddy program pairs two employees who have common personal interests, and this most often results in pairing women together for support within the office.

DigitalThink also offers its employees a flexible work schedule, which is an attractive option to working mothers. People can work some days from home, stay home with a sick child, and arrange flexible hours.

But 26 years later, the call to technology that Drumright felt so strongly is the exception, and women remain a minority in the male-dominated world of the sciences.

While jobs in technology are expected to boom in the coming years, women continue to be severely underrepresented in the field. According to 1999 studies by the Department of Labor Women's Bureau, women receive only 9% of engineering-related bachelor's degrees and fewer than 28% of the computer science bachelor's degrees, down from 37% in 1984.

Currently women are an estimated 20% of the IT workforce, and computer science is actually one of the few job groups where the percentage of women in the industry is decreasing, according to the Department of Labor, in Washington, D.C.

If this trend continues, women will be shut out of the most lucrative careers and will not be part of developing the new technologies that will affect their lives. Without a basic understanding of technology, women will also be left out of the decision-making process when it comes to discussions about technology.

The good news is that this growing divide is being closely watched by groups around the country, and a number of innovative programs, including some at the YWCA, the Institute for Women and Technology, and NASA, are working to turn the tide and bring women back into the technological fold.

Starting early

Why are women so severely underrepresented in technology? It's a combination of factors that start in the middle-school years and continue throughout a woman's career, according to the experts.

Beginning sometime in adolescence, many girls start turning off to the sciences and technology, according to a recent study by the American Association of University Women Educational Foundation in Washington D.C. Girls are not inspired by programming classes, find computer games too violent, and are not considering technology as a career option, according to the foundation's April 2000 report, "Tech-Savvy: Educating Girls in the New Computer Age."

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