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Women Finding a Place in the IT Industry

Lawrence J.T. Reaves

Women make up a bigger portion of the workforce than ever, and in many fields outnumber men. Unfortunately, there is a huge disparity in the amount of engineering and IT jobs held by women, and the reason isn’t exactly clear. As consumers, women make up have the market for technology, so it would stand to reason that women would want to take advantage of the opportunities to design products and services tailored to their own needs and interests.

Thankfully those in the professional world are acutely aware of this inequality and there are many programs designed to help women and girls succeed in the fields of science and technology. While it’s easy to dismiss this problem with commonplaces like “women’s brains just work differently,” answers of this sort are simply unacceptable. If this were true, how does one account for the growing number of women in the medical field?

One source of the problem is curriculum: in most high schools, courses like computer science are classified as vocational/technological studies, and are therefore seldom considered by university-track students. These courses also tend to be scheduled as electives, and often coincide with courses in the arts. Any computer-training students receive at this level usually falls under the category of computer literacy. With computer science and technology so integral to our day-to-day lives, why should high school curricula continue to barely graze the subject?

At the university level, this separation of disciplines continues with computer science and technology at the opposite end of the disciplinary spectrum from the humanities and sciences. Even business and marketing programs avoid the topic of computer science while demanding computer literacy.

Women with an interest in computer science and technology should seek out the programs designed to help them succeed. There are mentoring programs both associated with and separate from schools. If a young woman or girl in your class or in your family shows a proclivity for technology, encourage her to pursue a career in the discipline. Otherwise, women will continue to be locked out of the information economy. Women’s contribution toward IT will only advance the field by diversifying the workplaces—bringing new perspectives to the development of software, hardware, and information delivery systems.

Because the shortage of women in computer science and technology is such a well known problem, many programs have been implemented to increase women’s participation. For example, IBM hosts one of many technology camps for pre-teen girls; CodeChix is a group of technologically inclined women and girls who meet monthly to discuss coding, computer programming, and the like. For now the only active chapter of CodeChix is located in the Silicon Valley/Bay Area, but the group encourages other cities to create chapters. For the rest of the country, groups like the Association for Women in Computing (AWC) focus on career placement for women interested in computer science and technology and have chapters nationwide. Most colleges have implemented similar programs as well, so if you or someone you know is interested in exploring her career options in information technology, do a quick search of your area. There are more resources designed to help women succeed.

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