The issue of attracting women to science, engineering, and technology (SET) careers has been an ongoing one for several years. Literally, dozens of initiatives have been launched in an attempt to attract women to SET subjects beginning as young as elementary school, and with a great deal of success. However, for all of the progress that SET initiatives have made, the gender gap in IT still remains nearly as wide as ever.
According to research from CNET, women currently comprise only about 30 percent of the technology workforce in the U.S. On the surface, that might not seem like too much of a gap, but women make up 51 percent of the population and 59 percent of the overall workforce. Considering that even just a few decades ago, the number of women working in computer science, IT security, and other related fields was much lower, it appears that all of the work to get girls interested in SET subjects is paying off.
But not so fast. When you parse out some of those numbers, such as the number of women serving in leadership or executive roles, or working in IT security, the picture isn’t quite so rosy. In the world of IT security, women only make up 10 percent of the workforce. At companies like Microsoft, women make up about 30 percent of the workforce, but only about 16 percent of those women serve in leadership roles. At other tech giants, like Google and Twitter, the numbers aren’t much different. Women, who represent more than half of the general population, are woefully underrepresented.
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Explaining the Gender Gap
Given the number of initiatives designed to get girls interested in SET subjects from an early age, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to argue that girls have fewer opportunities for learning than boys. That is certainly still a concern, but many experts point to a different cause for the gender gap in IT: The industry itself.
Among the issues that are believed to contribute to the gender gap include:
The male-centric culture of the world of computer science and IT. It’s no mystery to anyone that IT, because it’s male-dominated, isn’t always the most welcoming environment for women. From differences in communication to outright harassment, women working in the field have reported cultural differences as one of the main reasons for leaving or changing jobs.
Leadership doesn’t see a problem. With the percentage of women at 30 percent (or even higher) in many companies, there’s a good chance that leadership is seeing a woman at the table in every meeting. Because they are seeing women represented, they may not realize how few women are actually in the company, and therefore don’t think they need to do more to increase diversity.
Women aren’t even being considered. It’s a common perception that in order to succeed in tech, you need a tech-related degree. However, some of the most well-known women leaders in the tech industry (such as Meg Whitman and Sheryl Sandberg) don’t have tech degrees at all, but rather business degrees. However, many tech companies aren’t hiring women with business backgrounds – and women with MBAs and other advanced degrees aren’t considering tech – the number of female leaders stays low.
Pay Gap. Finally, the pay gap between men and women is a primary driver for keeping women out of SET jobs. While woman earn less than men overall, it’s even more pronounced in the tech field. In a 2013 study, researchers found that women earn, on average, about 61 percent less than men in similar jobs in Silicon Valley.
Solving the Problem
So what’s the solution? There have been many ideas tossed out for increasing the number of women in IT, but there is one new idea that’s gaining traction: Certifications.
Certifications have long been used as a barometer to gauge job applicants’ abilities and knowledge, and for employers to know that their staff knows their stuff. Someone who has completed Microsoft PowerShell training, for instance, and earned the right certifications, can be reasonably expected to manage the company’s framework.
However, for women looking to enter the IT field, climb the ladder, and increase earnings potential, certifications can make a significant difference. According to one survey, IT workers with certified skills can earn more than 8 percent than their counterparts without the certified skills. Not to mention, holding a certification lends credibility that women often struggle to attain on their own.
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The importance of education and certifications to women in IT hasn’t gone unnoticed. Several organizations, including Cisco, ISC2, and American Express, have developed networks and program for women in technology, designed to encourage and support women as they build their careers. ISC2 for example, offers scholarships of up to $40,000 for women who want to further their education in SET subjects, while Cisco offers support and training for women working toward Cisco certifications.
The end goal, of course, is to have women equally represented in IT and technology fields as a whole, and every day sees more progress. Until then, women can improve their knowledge and begin IT certification training through the courses on ITPro.TV. For more information about how you can move your Tech career forward, sign up for one of our plans, or see our team training options.