I read an article today on Women in Technology – A Call for Obsoletion by Claire Willett. I started to comment and realized it was turning into a whole post on its own! I, too, have been puzzled by the disappearance of women in the field. Coming up on 27 years in IT, I am definitely not the norm (since most leave between 10-20 years in), but I did introduce my daughter (and my son, too!) to computers at an early age and told them they could be anything they wanted to be. Interestingly, my daughter didn’t show much interest, but got her degree in theoretical math from MIT, while my son showed a lot of interest, but then became a welder. Go figure!
Claire pointed out several proposed explanations that others have come up with to explain why there are fewer women entering the field and cited statistics to show they’re not staying in the field. The quandry that I have is where the line is to push kids into a direction they don’t want to go versus to encourage them to explore technology/science careers. Either way, I think this applies to any kids- not just mine – and not just girls!
As for the discouragement factor that she brings up, I think it’s a plausible, and insidious, explanation for the problem. Having “techie” parents and growing up in the heart of the space industry, I never experienced any discouragement as a young girl or teenager. But Claire’s article reminded me when I was going back to school when I was 28 and attempting to take an advanced math class, I really had to battle with the counselor to get her to sign off on the course. I was the recipient of a Pell grant at the time, and couldn’t just take it without authorization. I was told that I had been out of school too long to be successful. Furthermore, I wanted to take the self-paced class rather than the lecture class and was told that no one ever succeeds with that route. Well, I pushed back, explaining that I was in the software industry and could hold my own quite nicely in math. (I got an A. Can you imagine how badly I wanted to wave that in the face of that mis-guidance counselor!) How many other young women are getting told not to bother trying and believe it?
Fortunately for me, that’s the only real discouragement I really encountered that I actively had to battle. I discuss a few others in my previous post, Maybe It’s Just Me…A Perspective from One Woman in IT. And in that post, I also described my daughter’s perspective as a representative of the incoming generation of women in technology.
Although providing the girls in our sphere of influence exposure to the field of technology is a good step, we also need to be cognizant of other voices that they hear (friends, teachers, guidance counselors) that might be counteracting our best efforts. Helping them develop confidence in themselves and to believe that they can be whatever they want to be is also vitally important. Again, I feel this way about all kids, so I struggle a lot with singling out girls in particular. But if girls are especially vulnerable to the discouragement factor, then we need to be aware of that and take every opportunity to help them resist that discouragement, whether it’s your daughter, niece, friend’s daughter, or neighbor. We CAN make a difference one girl at a time! Along with Claire, I’d really like to see the obsolescence of WIT as well.
Woe to all mis-guidance counselors 🙂 At the discussion Karen Lopez and I had at SQL Saturday, the focus was more on the raising rates of attrition–the scale of which seemed to shock a lot of the audience members. Obviously, there are many reasons for this, but I do think that the typical programmer workplace culture plays a role. Some women in the audience said they’d be hesitant to recommend that their own daughters and nieces go into IT. I think this lack of job satisfaction coupled with the uphill battle for advancement opportunities leads to flight, and the flight means there are of course even less women in the field, and the less women there are, the less women there’ll be, and so on and so on. A vicious cycle. But I agree, encouragment on a personal level is one of the most effective ways to reverse it.
I too have heard from many women that they would not recommend IT as a career choice to their family members. What a sad state of affairs. Thanks for providing some insight into the discussion at SQL Saturday that led to your post!
I stumbled across your blog while testing PowerPivot- great work!
So this particular blog post caught my attention, as a fellow woman in IT and working mother. I wrote a blog a few years ago. Do women belong in the kitchen or in BI:
While some IT fields are losing women, that doesn’t seem to be the case in the BI field, and for good reason!
Thanks very much for sharing the link to your article, Cindi. It’s encouraging to see that the BI field has kept women better than other areas. It’s been a few years since that research was conducted. I wonder if the trend has continued since then? I agree with your assessment that women have some natural skills to bring to BI, and do my part to encourage women to consider it as a career option! –Stacia