Gender crisis in IT

Can the profession thrive if women keep bailing on it?

You don’t need a degree in statistics to recognize that IT is a men’s club. Just walk the floor of any tech conference or, in all likelihood, your own office — XY chromosomes everywhere you look.

I had naively assumed that the situation was improving, as women continued to flood the workforce. Then I talked with Sandy Carter, IBM’s VP of SOA and WebSphere strategy. Carter is the embodiment of the new IT-meets-business executive. She’s got a B.S. in computer science and math from Duke, an MBA from Harvard, and a deep-in-the-bones understanding of how IT works. When Carter talks, I listen.

Turns out, women are making a beeline out of IT, seeking careers with better opportunities for advancement. Slightly more than a quarter of today’s IT workers are women; in the mid-1980s that figure topped 35 percent. No wonder Carter is concerned.

So we decided to do some digging of our own. We put tech journalist Carmen Nobel on the case (see “Women in technology: A call to action”), asked Senior Contributing Editor Maggie Biggs to provide a first-person perspective, and interviewed a slate of prominent women in tech on the topic. The picture they paint isn’t entirely hopeful.

But what if you’re a man reading this story (likely, given the gender mix of InfoWorld’s readership)? Should you care? Doesn’t an exodus of females mean more opportunities for men?

Over the short term, sure. But ultimately it spells trouble for the profession. In an era of outsourcing and downsizing, IT can thrive only by innovating nonstop and integrating itself into the business-decision loop.

And for that to happen, IT must attract the best and brightest, regardless of gender — another observation you don’t need a statistics degree to comprehend.