Business Management

Kathryn Cave (Global) - Women: Why Doesn't IT Have iPad Appeal?

In recent years, IT has become more exciting and young women have become more ambitious. So, where are all the women in IT? Why the disconnect? Kathryn Cave, Editor at IDG Connect, investigates IT's poor image.

Over the last decade, a new generation of women have become more ambitious and career-minded than ever before. In fact, careers are now so fundamental to many young women, that a Marie Claire survey published this month showed that three quarters of twenty and thirty something respondents cite work as either ‘very important' or the ‘single most important thing' in their lives. On top of this, Citi reported that 36% of women it polled recently didn't factor marriage into their definition of ‘having it all', and 27% didn't include children. But with so many women prioritising work, why on earth aren't more pursuing careers in IT?

In the UK alone, women make up 49% of the labour force yet they account for just 17% of IT and telecom professionals. More worrying still, numerous studies suggest young girls simply aren't interested in IT. This is fascinating - irrespective of the clear potential of IT as a career, and even if you ignore reports that the world is crying out for core skills; technology lies at the heart of everything. It is the cornerstone of all progress and future developments: from healthcare to entertainment; from office culture to reading habits - advancements in technology are pivotal to every aspect of our lives.

It could be the less-than-flattering image of the computer ‘geek', but surely the geeky image of IT is starting to slip? Technological changes over the last decade should even mean the industry is starting to get ‘cool': Tablets and smartphones are the definitive accessory; the iPad is so sexy that if you want, you can pay $6,900 to dress it up in a designer David August case; Facebook founder Mark Zuckerburg had a film made about him (even if it wasn't that flattering); and each new Apple product launch causes a quasi-religious frenzy in consumers and journalists alike. What's more, the ‘Apple effect' is starting to touch other companies and products in the space. How many people got excited about Samsung ten years ago?

Yet despite all this, IT does still seem to have a massive perception problem - girls who might otherwise go into IT careers are put off the idea. Interestingly, a 2009 study by Cisco found that 80% of girls want the chance to be creative and independent in their work environment. However, only 30% believed a job in ICT would let them do this. This seems baffling when much-bandied media terms such as "entrepreneur", "start-up" and "innovation" have become synonymous with both creativity and tech. Admittedly these things have little to do with the day-to-day role of someone in tech support; but equally, staff writer on the Cambrian News has little relationship to Editor-in-Chief at the New York Times, although they're both journalists. Surely the trials of job classification are for the ambitious to manoeuvre?

Whatever the reasoning; Belinda Parmar, founder of Lady Geek, has attempted to tackle this image crisis head on with this month's launch of Little Miss Geek. Her aim, as her website states, is: "to do for the tech industry what Jamie Oliver did for school dinners; to realign attitudes from the ground up and bring about nationwide change. We want to inspire the next generation of young girls to become tech pioneers." This is a noble idea; however, some of the assertions did feel slightly patronising. Or, as Jemima Kiss in the Guardian put it: "Are the messages and pretty illustrations in danger of reinforcing the stereotypes, rather than dispelling them?"

Perhaps more interestingly, Maria Klawe, President of Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, has compiled her own research into why young women don't chose tech careers. This concluded: "Number one is they think it's not interesting. Number two, they think they wouldn't be good at it. Number three, they think they will be working with a number of people that they just wouldn't feel comfortable or happy working alongside." Again, this falls down to image. Are scores of women drawn to careers in events and PR (where you hardly find a single man) because they're comfortable with the environment? Does tech just make people think of ‘The IT Crowd'? Maybe HBO should commission a glamorous IT drama with Megan Fox cast as the head geek...

The fact is; the lack of women in IT has become almost an ‘issue' in itself. It appears they are now so few and far between that almost superhuman individuals seem to be sought to fulfil vacancies. As Martha Heller, President of CIO recruitment company and author of the CIO Paradox explained, "I'm going to say 80% of the searches that we do whether they're at the CIO level or at the VP or director level, will say to us, ‘If you could get us a woman that'd be really great.' But the women I talk to are asking but not getting those opportunities internally. So somewhere there's a serious disconnect - where on one hand you've got women saying we're not being considered and on the other, companies saying we want women."

Put all this evidence together and it really does feel like IT is missing out on the shortage of women. (Even if women don't believe they're missing out). The tech industry is young, fast-growing and at the forefront of all innovation. This means the most senior positions are becoming increasingly pivotal to the wider business. These factors coupled with what Trish Halpin, Editor-in-Chief of Marie Claire describes as "The remarkable ambition of... [today's] young women" could combine to make an extremely successful mix. So, why are women rejecting IT? Is it an image problem -can nobody see the iPad appeal?

By Kathryn Cave, Editor, IDG Connect


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