The New Offshoring Report's Good News for Women in IT

Dr. William Aspray

Last week, the ACM Job Migration Task Force released a report on Globalization and the Offshoring of Software. The report did not explicitly discuss the impact of offshoring on women in developed countries who were already pursuing IT careers or were considering study for an IT career. Nevertheless, it is straightforward to see some of the implications of the report for these women.

There is a widely held belief that developed nations sending software work to lower-wage countries, such as the United States or Germany or Japan, can keep their IT industries strong, their nation's wealthy, and their employment picture rosy through an innovation policy that retains their position as world leaders in invention and innovation. The report discusses how this is achieved by a nation such as the United States by investing heavily in education and research, and by creating a welcome environment for the world's students and IT professionals.

The thrust of the argument in the report is primarily about how national security concerns have made the United States a less welcome place for foreign graduate students and foreign computer scientists. However, the same argument of building an environment that embraces the talent and perspectives of a large, diverse workforce applies also to the value of inclusion of women and ethnic minorities in the IT workforce.

While the participation of women in the IT workforce might be good for the United States, would it also be good for the individual women themselves? The report gives a statistic that runs strongly counter to the public perception that there is no future for work in an IT career in the United States because of the steady drain of these jobs to low-wage countries such as India or China.

Using data from the highly reliable US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the report shows that, contrary to public perception, there has been a 17 percent increase in IT jobs in the United States between 1999, the height of the dot-com boom, and 2004 - even though this was a half-decade of increasingly frenetic offshoring activity. Other forecasts by the Bureau of Labor Statistics predict that IT occupations will be among the fastest growing occupations in the coming decade.

Some people in the United States will lose their jobs to offshoring, but the report gives advice to students about how to prepare for a long-lasting IT career in a global workplace. Suggestions include obtaining a strong core of knowledge of computer science that can serve as a basis for learning new knowledge in this rapidly changing field; taking an interdisciplinary approach to IT education that focuses on learning not only about computer science but also about its application to key domain areas such as health care, construction, or defense; learning about the methods for reusing software code; becoming familiar with the big software enterprise software packages by companies such as IBM, SAP, Oracle, and Siebel that are increasing

used worldwide; developing excellent "soft" skills such as oral and written communication and teamwork; becoming familiar with foreign cultures and languages, including direct experience through study abroad or internships; and planning on life-long learning to keep skills up to date.

This 200+-page report covers many topics. They include descriptions of the software industries and educational systems of the major countries involved in offshoring, the many factors that have driven the rise of offshoring, reasons other than cost advantage why companies send software work to low-wage countries, types of work that are unlikely to be off shored, analysis of the data about the extent of offshoring and the reliability of this data, how offshoring may exacerbate risks to intellectual property, national security, data security, and individual privacy, educational and political responses that can be taken by nations to offshoring, and the increasing globalization of IT research and what this means.

The report can be found at http://www.acm.org/globalizationreport/. The Overview provides a detailed summary of the report and is a good place for a reader to start who has more than a few minutes to devote to this topic.



Dr. William Aspray is a professor of computer science, history and philosophy of science at the University of Indiana. His research focuses on the historical, political, and socioeconomic aspects of information technology. An esteemed NCWIT partner, Dr. Aspray is widely published on both historical and contemporary issues facing the computing research community.