I'm probably a disgrace to my gender for saying this but I think the new study showing women in IT face "significant barriers to advancement" is a bit overblown. According to research conducted by the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology, the situation is so bad that nearly 30% of women are planning to leave their mid-level tech positions within the next year to "pursue alternative options."
The study makes a number of assertions that seem to lay the blame for unhappy female tech workers at the feet of businesses without looking at all possible factors. For instance:
- Researchers say women are more likely than men to view the workplace as a competitive environment. News flash: women are competitive, period. Ever been to a class reunion or cocktail party with one?
- The study claims technical women who hold management positions are perceived as less competent than their male colleagues. What the researchers gloss over, however, it that fewer women in IT have advanced technical degrees. In fact, the study says outright, "although the majority of women come to a technical career through studies in computer science and engineering (63.2%), a significant proportion of women come to a technical career from other fields of study." Therefore it's pretty likely that if women are perceived as "less" anything, it's that they lack education (which, comparatively speaking, they do), not competence.
- Mid-level female managers say they believe long hours are a requirement for success (Last time I checked, long hours for IT workers are par for the course in this field, no matter what your gender.
- Researchers claim a female tech worker's health is affected by job stress to a greater degree than her male counterpart. While it's true women suffer stress related illness, it's is based on a number of physiological factors and environmental factors and it's not unique to IT.
While I don't agree with the study's conclusions, the researchers do make a couple of good points. The say, for example, "One way companies can demonstrate their commitment to diversity is to increase the female representation on their board of directors and other leadership entities." Researchers also suggest businesses offer greater options for professional development and consider more flexible work schedules to accommodate working parents.
I've worked in male dominated fields and I know it's not easy. I know there are many obstacles to overcome and I'm also aware that plenty of women find themselves in untenable situations. It might help to remember, though, that these kids of work situations are just as tough for men to adapt to so a little understanding all the way around is usually called for.
I had hoped for a better study from an organization who's mission is to "help industry, academia, and government recruit, retain, and develop women leaders in high-tech fields, resulting in higher levels of technological innovation." I was disappointed.