It’s no secret that information technology (IT) is a largely male-dominated industry. Despite holding 57 percent of all jobs in America in 2013, women held just 26 percent of professional computing occupations, according to the National Center for Women & Information Technology.
But as more women move into leadership positions in IT-heavy companies like Intel, Microsoft, Facebook, Yahoo, IBM and GM, the message is clear: When it comes to women in IT, no company, organization or glass ceiling is impenetrable.
Whether you're a techie or not, if you’re a woman interested in communication and problem solving, the IT industry is interested in you.
The NCWIT predicts there will be more than 1.4 million computer specialist jobs available by 2020, yet only enough qualified candidates to fill less than half of these positions.
This sounds like great news for enterprising young women looking to follow in the footsteps of the Sheryl Sandbergs and Marissa Mayers of the world. But the sad reality is that only about 20 percent of bachelor’s degrees in computing go to women.
As the industry grows and the need for eligible candidates with degrees increases, the IT industry could play a huge role in the personal and professional lives of women like you.
The future is indeed bright for women in IT, read on to find out why.
So … where are the women?
Elena English, CEO and founder of mobile engagement platform SignalMind, believes the lack of feminine involvement in computer-related professions is largely due to misconceptions about the IT industry.
English says many women may associate IT careers with “geekiness.” She says the IT industry needs to be seen and promoted for what it truly is, a service industry involving a lot of communication and problem-solving.
Another problem is the declining number of women choosing computer-related careers.
A Girl Scouts of America study found that 81 percent of female teens expressed interest in pursuing a STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) career, but just 13 percent said it would be their first choice.
The Girl Scouts study cited the “intensity of the workplace environment” as a major factor in women not pursuing STEM careers. Specifically, long hours, heavy travel time, lack of opportunities to advance their careers and low salaries were provided as examples.
In fact, just 26 percent of women who graduated college with a STEM degree are working in a STEM career, the study shows.
It seems that outdated perceptions of IT-related fields combined with inhospitable work environments have led to a lack of female involvement in an industry desperately in need of a little feminine finesse.
Yes, CIOs want you
Though there may be a shortage of women in IT, there is no shortage of chief information officers (CIOs) looking to hire.
“Collaboration, social skills, willingness to seek help and efficient multitasking,” says CIO Brian Kelley of Portage County Information Services. These are the skills he says women can bring to the table and why they are so coveted in the industry.
Alongside different strong points, diversity of thought is another reason women are needed in the IT industry.
An NCWIT study of more than 100 teams at 21 different companies reported that “teams with equal numbers of women and men were more likely (than teams of any other composition) to experiment, be creative, share knowledge and fulfill tasks.”
Finally, the unique skill sets women bring to the table often help create the balance CIOs are seeking.
"We cannot have enough women in IT support,” says Christopher Kuhn, chief operations officer of Open Technology Real Services. “Where [male] developers are solely focusing on features and functionality of software, women confront [problems] with practical approaches.”
Is IT worth it?
While weighing the shortage of women in IT against the cited experiences within the industry, it’s natural to ask yourself if it’s worth joining the field.
If it’s stability you’re seeking, the job outlook speaks for itself.
Computer systems analysts jobs are predicted to grow 25 percent through 2022, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The median salary given for systems analysts holding a bachelor’s degree is $79,680.*
Other careers projected to grow faster than average through 2022 include computer support specialists and computer network architects, at 17 and 15 percent, respectively.
“There are endless opportunities and little competition,” says Elena Boyd, co-founder of Moonshine Interactive. “Many companies are looking for women to balance out the gap between male and female developers and are eager to hire.”
Beyond the job opportunities, the perks of the career also align well with the values of women with families who still want to grow and develop in their careers.
“Technology typically offers much greater flexibility and autonomy,” Boyd says. “[That] naturally makes balancing work and family much easier.”
Your Next Move
It should be clear by now that IT isn’t just for nerdy number-crunchers. It should also be clear that women are now, and will continue to be, highly sought after in computer-related careers. So, why not capitalize on the opportunity?
If you’re curious about your next step, look into a technology degree. Education is often the bedrock to building a career and IT is no different. Check out how a degree in technology can help you become the one of the professional women CIOs are seeking.
*Salary data represents national, averaged earnings for the occupations listed and includes workers at all levels of education and experience. This data does not represent starting salaries and employment conditions in your area may vary.