“For whatever reason, I didn’t succumb to the stereotype that science wasn’t for girls. I got encouragement from my parents. I never ran into a teacher or a counselor who told me that science was for boys. A lot of my friends did.” — Astronaut Sally Ride
“Companies with a woman among the founders performed 63% better than ones founded just by men.” — Investment firm First Round Capital
A lack of gender diversity in the workplace is an issue that spans industries. The concern is particularly prevalent in higher education IT departments where the overall percentage of female IT professionals resides at 33%, according to a 2015 study reported by EDUCAUSE Center for Analysis and Research (ECAR). For context, females make up 47% of the US labor force. The proportion of women IT managers and staff in higher ed has dropped over the past five years.
Why so few women have entered the IT industry is a challenging problem to solve. An article in Fortune Magazine states that the answer may lie with unconscious biases that cause predominately male IT managers to hire individuals much like themselves. Studies show that even leaders with the best intentions may be susceptible to this phenomenon. Additionally, environmental and social barriers — including stereotypes, gender bias, and the climate of science and engineering departments in colleges and universities — have continued to inhibit women’s participation and progress in science, technology, engineering, and math. Fortunately, industry professionals have recognized this lack of diversity and by taking steps to diversify departments, they are finally seeing a surge in female leaders.
We can expect great things from the projected increase in the number of female leaders in higher ed IT departments. According to a study conducted by Caliper, women leaders tend to have stronger interpersonal skills and often “outperform their male counterparts in emotional intelligence, are more empathetic, and excel at networking and the use of social media as a form of connecting.” Female industry leaders have also been at the forefront of utilizing social media across the higher ed IT industry to more efficiently share information and foster relationships among students, faculty, staff, and entire campus communities.
Having diverse talent in the workplace inevitably yields more viewpoints and creative ideas. A diversified workforce within higher ed IT departments is vital because employees learn from co-workers whose work styles vary. With more women IT leaders, the industry has the opportunity to find and create new innovative ways to engage students in their classrooms. However, the industry must actively encourage women to take the lead and this starts at a young age.
At Extreme, we encourage young girls to participate in competitions like the Girls Of Steel Robotics and the competitions listed below. There are groups such as Women in Technology (WIT) for the state of Wisconsin, which aim to attract and retain women and girls interested or working in technology through programs that offer opportunities for personal and professional growth. EDUCAUSE’s Women In IT Constituent Group is another that collects and disseminates effective practices in the recruitment, retention, and advancement of women in Higher Education IT, and the National Center for Women & Information Technology is a non-profit organization which encourages girls and women in the field of computing.
The industry still has a long way to go in terms of diversity. However, we are making progress by supporting an increase in STEM careers, and opportunities for women to hold leadership positions across the board. Two encouraging statistics reported by ECAR are that the proportion of women CIOs in higher education has grown from 23% to 27% from 2010-2015 and female CIOs and managers outearn their male counterparts by $2,400 and $3,000 respectively. Both of these should encourage women and girls considering a career in IT. It’s apparent that women play a key role in filling the skills gap in the tech industry; and by focusing on the critical stages of a career in IT, we can encourage more women and girls to fill leadership roles across the sector.
Organizations and Competitions That Encourage Girls in Technology