Woman have been locked out, or at least badly underrepresented, in IT for years. And not just from the corner office, but in every job from janitor to the science- and engineering-related positions that make up the vast bulk of good-paying jobs in the technology industry.
That's finally changing -- in a significant way. For the first time in at least a decade, a majority of the jobs created in technology so far this year have been filled by women, according to data collected by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
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During the first nine months of 2013, a total of 39,000 jobs were created in what the government calls "computer systems design and related services." Of those a bit more than 60 percent went to women, compared to just 34 percent for all of 2012. Over the last 10 years, the average proportion of women hired to fill new jobs in the sector -- there were about 534,000 -- was just 30.8 percent.
Along with the good news (for those who believe in gender equality), the report raises a number of questions: Is this year simply an outlier, or does it represent the beginning a significant trend? It's also impossible to tell from the data which occupations (technical versus nontechnical) have changed the most, though it seems unlikely that a large percentage of those new jobs, particularly in startups, are merely in supporting roles. An oddity in the data is that the number of women hired is about the same as in previous years, whereas the number of men is much lower -- it's not clear why fewer men were hired, and why the number of women hires has remained steady.
"Is this really positive change? It's too early to say," says Elizabeth Ames of the Anita Borg Institute, an advocacy group for women in tech. "But we are seeing more awareness of the issue and seeing leaders in the technology business realize it is an imperative to bring women into tech workforces."
The tech boom may have made a difference
It's probably not a coincidence that the apparent shift toward equality comes at a time when unemployment in the tech industry is quite low, averaging 3.65 percent through October of this year, compared to 7.5 percent for the economy as a whole.
Although I don't believe that vast numbers of tech jobs are going begging or that colleges and universities are not churning out enough STEM grads, it's obvious that employers -- whether they are "progressive" on gender issues or not -- can no longer afford to ignore half the population.
Along with overall employment in the industry, I used the number of jobs listed on Dice.com, one of the largest tech job boards, to get a sense of the employment picture. Dice has been advertising an average of nearly 83,000 positions all year, about half of which are full-time, and 35 percent are posted by employers seeking contractors. Most of those positions stay on the board for about 14 days, says Dice spokeswoman Jennifer Bewley.
Although the BLS data set doesn't include the entire tech industry, it includes much of it -- and its data indicates strong job growth. There were just under 89,000 new jobs recorded in 2011, and about 85,000 in 2012. But job growth this year will probably be weaker; just 39,000 jobs were created in the first nine months of 2013. (Thanks to Dice for doing the heavy lifting of combing through BLS tables to extract the data on women's job gains.)