IT's Need for the Feminine Touch
A friend recently sent me a copy of a report from IT advisory firm Cutter Consortium entitled "The Defeminization of IT."
The report highlights the trends that form the basis of NCWIT: girls are not choosing educational paths in IT, and women who have are leaving in droves. The report suggests that while women are quickly becoming the most prevalent market for technology-based products, the female demographic will be difficult to tap unless the current trends are reversed and more women are involved in the design and development of the products and services.
In the report, Lynne Ellyn and Christine Davis also share their thoughts on why women and young girls are turning away from IT-based careers. Three of the comments by the writers struck me personally.
Girls are not going into IT careers because they have no role models with whom they can identify. The pervasive perception of women in IT is still unflattering and certainly uncool. Best Buy's Geek Squad is a perfect example. Do you see any "normal" women among the commercials? Would anyone want to be like the people depicted? When was the last time a non-nerdy woman was heralded for her work in the IT sector?
Although I would not call her a nerd, Carly Fiorina did not do much to bolster a positive image for IT among young girls. When I relay to my daughter's friends in middle school that I ran a software company, they are surprised. To them, I don't LOOK like someone who would be interested in computers or technology. Sad.
Girls assume that technical careers are isolating. Girls want to work with people. What they don't realize is that in order to develop products and services that meet a market need, someone has to talk to the customer. That is how I was able to resolve my love for computers (I AM a geek!) with my need to be around people. Additionally, the writers argue that so much of what is done in IT today requires working as part of a team rather than people working alone closed up in a lab somewhere. This message is not conveyed effectively, if at all.
Many women and girls do not see that IT careers can support work-life balance. In the report, Ellyn refers to many women she has spoken with who have left IT careers because the demands of project work were so excessive they could not manage work-life balance. How people define "balance" is a personal soap-box for me, as I believe seeking balance on a day-to-day basis is a recipe for disaster. It is unattainable, which is why I call balance "the 'B' word." (In my forthcoming book, The ParentPrenuer Edge: What Parenting Teaches About Building a Successful Business, I discuss the model that many successful entrepreneurs, many of them IT-based, have used for successful work-life balance.) My own personal experience has been that IT entrepreneurship is indeed an ideal vehicle for obtaining a workable, long-term work-life balance.
I believe the common thread in all of the points listed above is a lack of communication. There are a lot of non-nerdy technical women out there who are able to balance their work and their family, and it is time our stories are told. I joined the NCWIT Entrepreneurial Alliance to help NCWIT do just that -- tell our stories so others can see the great empowerment we have found in IT entrepreneurship, without sacrificing our ability to be cool. Smashing the stereotypes and providing better information is the key to keeping technology products from losing their much-needed feminine touch.
Julie Lenzer Kirk is an IT entrepreneur and author of The ParentPrenuer Edge: What Parenting Teaches About Building a Successful Business.