Women in Science

IT Jobs Offer Growth, But Women Are Bailing Out

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Information technology is one of the fastest growing professions, yet women are leaving the field in huge numbers. One woman who is now on a job search said men in her company often expect her to play a secretarial role.

woman leaving(WOMENSENEWS)--Janna Jones (not her real name) used to love her job in the information technology, or IT, industry when she was working in the Washington, D.C., area as a computer analyst. Her company worked on mostly large government contracts.

"The firm was diverse, there was lots of mentoring, I never felt any discrimination, I felt very supported, especially as a young woman," said Jones, who specialized in data mining. She used sophisticated software and wrote computer programs to search for patterns of fraud and abuse for government agencies, including the IRS and Medicare.

"I really thought this was going to be a career for me, because things were so positive," she said.

But a move to a company in the Midwest changed that.

"I don't know if it was the company or the geography, but I could hear and feel the hostility," she said.

Jones said even if a woman had been a team leader on a project, when it came time to meet with a client, she would be relegated to a secretarial role.

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"I could be giving a presentation and if people had questions they would look to the men in the room and never ask it directly of me," she said.

When she asked her boss how to deal with this sexism, she was advised to, "Play up my femininity. Make sure the men feel like they are smarter than you, then they will feel comfortable," said Jones.

But she knows her experience is not just related to location. "I have girlfriends in D.C., all over who have endured similar things."

Jones, who is 29, did not want her real name used because she is job hunting now.

"I'd love to stay in the industry," she said.

A Growing Industry

Technology jobs are predicted to grow at a faster rate than all other jobs in the professional sector, up to 22 percent over the next decade, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Compensation is also good. In 2008, women in tech made an average salary of $70,370, according to Dice Holdings, an Urbandale, Iowa-based company that specializes in recruiting and career development in technology and engineering.

But women's stake in that rosy outlook is questionable. For starters, men's pay during the same time period was $80,357.

A study by the National Center for Women and Information Technology, based in Boulder, Colorado, also finds that women are leaving computer careers in staggering numbers.

"Fifty-six percent of women in technology companies leave their organizations at the mid-level point, 10-20 years in their careers," said Catherine Ashcraft, the senior research scientist who authored the report.

In 2008, women held only 25 percent of all professional IT-related jobs, down from 36 percent in 1991, according to the group's report, "Women in IT: The Facts."

The report shows about half the women who leave science, engineering and tech jobs continue to use their technology skills, either starting their own companies or finding positions in government or nonprofits. The others, however, say goodbye to their extensive training, taking non-tech jobs or leaving the work force completely.

Ashcraft said women are discouraged and leave for a wide range of blatant and subtle reasons.

Women's pay, after 15 years, is 11 percent less than men with comparable experience.

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"In 2008, women in tech made an average salary of $70,370, .......... men's pay during the same time period was $80,357."

As a person who hires professional staff, in my anecdotal experience the main difference in pay between gender's is based on the willingness of females to accept the first offer. Males almost always demand 10% more that the first offer as part of the hiring process. That would also make your statement that the pay difference can reach 11% after 15 years the expectation, not the exception.

Personnel is under no obligation to 'pay women more'. If I have completely equal applicants with the only exception being the applicant B asked for $10k more in wages than applicant A, I would hire applicant A for less. I would not offer to match the starting pay that applicant B requested, I would instead save my company $10,000 and hire a completely qualified applicant at the lesser wage. Gender would make no difference in that decision, fiscal responsibility would. It just so happens that often Applicant A is a women and Applicant B is a man.