A Woman’s Touch in Information Technology

With women only representing less than one-quarter of the nation’s information technology workforce, there has been a lot of chatter about how to get them more interested in a career in IT. With Dream IT, CompTIA, the nonprofit association for the information technology industry, hopes to revitalize that conversation. Nancy Hammervik, senior vice president of industry relations for ComTIA, explained the intricacies of Dream IT and what influence women will have on the IT field in the future.

What is Dream IT?
To help further empower young girls to go after degrees and careers in IT, CompTIA’s Advancing Women in IT Community recently launched a new evangelism platform, Dream IT. Through Dream IT, our members will be equipped to go into their communities and schools and speak directly with young women about careers in IT.

To prepare members for IT evangelism, we’ve created a number of online resources and tools that will enable anyone to make a presentation about the importance of girls and women dreaming of careers in IT. We’re also enabling our social media networks to extend the ability of our members to reach current and future IT professionals.

The program will also include a career resource center — a website that can be used by anyone to learn more about IT careers and about women in IT careers.

How will Dream IT help women become better represented in the IT field?
Through education and exposure for the organizations that are succeeding in getting it right every day. Success breeds success, and we have several examples of efforts that are paying off and can be replicated to bring even more women into the IT industry.

At CompTIA, we’re proud sponsors of the Chicago Tech Academy, a nonprofit, four-year high school in downtown Chicago that is working to increase the number of minority and low-income students who pursue STEM degrees and careers.

All Chi Tech students, boys and girls, are exposed to an in-depth technology curriculum. That includes apprenticeships in the IT and business world. Students there have the opportunity to graduate with up to five different professional certifications, and take part in a number of technical and entrepreneurial projects throughout their four years.

Just last year, a junior girl from Chi Tech was selected to attend the third White House Science Fair, an event to honor students who participate in STEM competitions throughout the country. She was able to present a business plan for a mobile app that she both developed and created a business plan around.

Organizations and schools like these are working hard to target young girls and bring them into the IT fold before they write it off as uninteresting, irrelevant or impossible to pursue.

Why aren’t there more women in the IT field?
It’s an embedded stereotype from a young age: careers in the arts and creative are more for the girls and sciences more for the boys. It’s hard to have old habits die. There’s also some perception that girls’ brains aren’t wired for math and science. It’s just unfortunate stereotypes that we all grow up with.

There’s also the element of gender bias in pay rates and management opportunities in the workforce generally. It’s just magnified in IT, which has historically been a male-dominated industry.

That’s why we’re so focused and committed to bringing this program to the school level, to eliminate those stereotypes that STEM careers are only for boys. It’s time the conversation changed.

Why should more women consider a career in the IT field, aside from financial reasons?
The IT industry is one of the fastest-growing fields in the world, one that’s expected to be worth $5 trillion by 2020. Its explosive growth has made it an attractive career path for millions around the world. In the U.S., that’s also true.

The IT field is a big umbrella with a variety of career paths and areas of study. IT careers encompass everything from programming and application development to business consulting, troubleshooting and security, to tech support management and more.

For women especially, the IT industry has proven to offer fulfilling careers and professional possibilities.

How will you reach women outside the IT field?
We believe one solution is to begin educating and advocating for girls at an earlier age.
Consider this: Presently, girls make up just over half of all Advanced Placement test-takers in the U.S. At 46 percent of all AP calculus test-takers, girls are almost on par with boys. Yet, only 19 percent of AP computer science test-takers are girls.

The problem isn’t access to technology. Most teens these days have a PC, laptop, tablet or smartphone.

In 2012, CompTIA surveyed a group of teenagers on how they feel about technology. Ninety-seven percent of teens and young adults report loving or liking technology, but the love affair they have with it doesn’t seem to translate into interest in a career in IT.

Our research has shown that the primary barrier to interest in IT as a career is that young people — girls especially — don’t understand that IT even can be a career for them. Despite 95 percent of young girls liking or loving technology, only 9 percent say they’re definitely interested in an IT career.

However, career interest levels jump when teens are presented with options for specific jobs or career attributes. According to CompTIA’s research, young girls do show an interest in certain aspects of IT occupations, such as designing websites and mobile apps, or working to help other people use technology.

How will you measure the success of the Dream IT initiative?
Our goal is to create a grassroots movement and reach 10,000 women and girls with information about the value of IT professions. So far we’ve received more than 100 commitments from our members — women and men — to go out to schools and civic organizations in their communities to deliver the Dream IT message.

What will the landscape of women in the IT field be in five years?
Any look into the future has to start with the millennials — 80 million strong in the U.S. and 2.5 billion worldwide. A recent Pew study showed that just as many young women as young men put success in a high-paying career on the list of things important in their lives. And for the first time, more young women than young men put career success at the top of their values. Other studies show that desire for greater job responsibility also shows young women taking the lead. We’re hopeful that through our efforts, and the efforts of many others, some of these positive trends will make their way into the IT workforce.

Eric Short is an editorial intern at Diversity Executive. He can be reached at editor@diversity-executive.com.