One of the biggest problems we face today in IT is not one that can be fixed with a patch or a new software package, but it is one that requires intention and planning to solve. What we need in IT is diversity and more specifically, we need more women in IT and leadership roles. As an industry we've come a long way in the past decade, but there’s still a lot more to be done.
I was inspired to write about this after listening to a TED Talk by Sheryl Sanders, the COO of Facebook. One of the factors contributing to the gender gap according to Sheryl is something social scientists call “stereotype threat”, a phenomenon where people who are aware of stereotypes (like the one that women are not as competent in math and science) are more likely to act in accordance with them. Women make up only 18% of computer science majors, yet account for over 60% of college graduates. Sheryl states “the reason there aren't more women in computer science is there aren't enough women in computer science.” In other words, if we don’t actively work to get more women into computer science this stereotype will continue to perpetuate itself.
I think one of the ways that can help change this is by getting more women in IT leadership roles; women currently only make up ~15% in top executive positions. I am fortunate enough to work for a company that truly values diversity; we have a great CIO and I have a terrific boss, both whom I look up to as role models and both happen to be women. When young girls have female role models to look up to in IT fields, I believe they are more apt to pursue those fields.
Aside from the equality gained by having more women who are technology literate (which is important on its own), we need more women in IT for another important reason: diversity in thought. Men and women, on average, tend to think about design and problems differently. If you have a team without any women on it, you’re potentially missing out on a lot of great ideas and solutions.
A lot of progress has been made, but to keep making progress we have to actively work to attract women to IT.
Jon Baker is a Senior Product Configuration Software Analyst at Allegion, PLC
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