March 9, 2012
Tech jobs abound, but women still outnumbered in the field
Technology-related career opportunities are thriving in and around Seattle. Many industry leaders, including Microsoft, Amazon.com, Expedia and Boeing, as well as local start-ups are perpetually looking to hire.
But despite the region’s wealth of tech-centric companies, gender disparities persist in the candidate pool.
“Women are definitely still a minority in the tech sector,” says Liz Morgan, a talent strategist at Microsoft.
“Often there’s a small percentage of women on an engineering team or in a meeting, [and that] doesn’t seem to be changing as swiftly as it should,” she says. “Looking at the numbers, the percentage of women awarded computer science degrees has been on the decline since the ’80s.”
Indeed, the National Center for Women and Information Technology reports that the percentage of undergraduate computing and information sciences degrees earned by women dropped from 37 percent in 1985 to 18 percent in 2009.
“Looking around my informatics and computer science classes, there is definitely a significant gender disparity,” says Veronica Ivaniukovich, a senior at the University of Washington. She believes that many women accept antiquated stereotypes associated with the field.
“I have even seen this among my girlfriends,” she says. “They deem themselves to be computer illiterate and say that they could never be in a technical major. But in reality, it’s more of a mental-barrier issue. They fear they won’t be successful at it, while also not having any real understanding of what it is.”
Breaking down those barriers is a goal for Cathi Rodgveller, who founded Inspiring Girls Now in Technology Evolution (IGNITE) more than 10 years ago while working as a Seattle School District nontraditional career counselor. The nonprofit connects school-age girls with women working in technology and engineering careers.
• Association for Women in Computing’s Puget Sound chapter holds monthly events aimed at helping women in tech careers both professionally and personally.
• IGNITE is always in need of donations and volunteer mentors from a variety of tech backgrounds, including programmers, engineers and user experience designers.
• Seattle Girl Geek Dinners meets approximately once a quarter over dinner, hosting panel discussions.
“We need to reach girls at a young age,” says Rodgveller. “We have to give girls confidence.”
She’s found that when you ask a boy if he can figure out a new tool or program, he’ll say he definitely can. “It doesn’t matter if it’s a tool or program he’s ever used,” Rodgveller says. “But when you ask a girl, often she’ll say she isn’t sure, even if it’s something she’s tried in the past.”
Seattle-based IGNITE offers middle and high school students a variety of resources, including field trips to local companies, mentoring relationships, career fairs and job-shadow opportunities.
“Seattle is home to great tech companies,” says Rodgveller. “Girls need to understand that there are women working at Boeing and Microsoft that are just like them.”
IGNITE is offered at every school in the Seattle School District and has spread to other Washington cities, including Snohomish and Spokane, as well as other states and countries.
“We need to do a better job of prepping women for today’s job market,” says Rodgveller. “We need to break down myths and stereotypes.”
Ivaniukovich agrees that early education programs are key. “In middle school and high school, I definitely had a lot of misconceptions about the field,” she says. “This was simply because I hadn’t been exposed to it.”
The UW senior thinks many young girls unfairly misjudge the tech field as boring and not creative. Ivaniukovich is working on her post-graduation plan by looking for a position in user experience, which she says is “one of the most creative fields I can think of. Not only is the field constantly evolving, but every problem you work on is different.”
IT gender disparity by the numbers
• Women hold 56 percent of all professional jobs in the U.S. workforce, but only 25 percent of IT jobs.
• At Fortune 500 tech companies, just 11 percent of executives are women.
• Female students make up 46 percent of Advanced Placement calculus test-takers, but only 19 percent of Advanced Placement computer science test-takers.
Source: National Center for Women and Information Technology
Morgan says that even once they’re working in technology, many women continue to feel isolated and like fish out of water.
“It can be discouraging to see such a significant gender gap in the industry, but it also really inspired me,” Morgan says. “I asked myself, ‘What can I do?’ It’s difficult to be one of few women on a team of engineers or scientists, which makes it incredibly important for women working in technology to get together and support each other.”
So Morgan founded Seattle Girl Geek Dinners in 2008. The local network holds dinners that feature speakers and panels with women from tech companies.
“It’s helpful and empowering to hear from other successful women in the field,” she says, adding that one of her favorite events was a panel led by Bing user experience designers.
“It was [an amazing panel of speakers] because it featured women at every career stage. One had recently graduated college, one had just given birth to her second child, and one had been in the field for years,” Morgan says.
Since the Seattle job market is rich with opportunity in the tech sector, why aren’t women pursuing the field at the same rate as men?
“It all comes back to creating a network,” says Rodgveller. “For women and girls, there’s a lack of community and a lack of mentors. We need to show young girls that tech skills will get them places.”
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