The IT Factor: Making Tech Jobs Female-Friendly

Normally, placing too much stock in raunchy comedian Louis C.K.’s unapologetically unfiltered words isn’t a recommended course of action, but his 2011 prediction that “the next Steve Jobs will totally be a chick” is something we can all get behind.

Although women haven’t traditionally had a significant presence in the information technology sector, the combination of increased reliance on technology and intensified recruiting efforts of companies in every industry has flipped this trend on its head throughout the past decade. Case in point: Computer systems analyst is one of the best jobs for women in 2014, according to a recent CareerCast report.

The 12 jobs highlighted in the report are standouts because they employ a large percentage of women and offer competitive pay and positive hiring outlooks over the next eight years. For example, computer systems analysts earn a median annual salary of $79,680, and employment in the field is expected to increase by 25 percent through 2022.

This projected rise is due in large part to technology’s shift from its place as merely the support function of a company to the core of the business, a movement that has occurred across all industries. Technology has infiltrated practically every corner of the corporate world and is crucial to the smooth running of the workplace.

And more women in particular have entered the IT sector in the 21st century, especially as computer systems analysts, for two reasons, according to Tony Lee, CareerCast’s publisher. The first is that “more women are actually interested in IT now; they’re majoring and getting experience in the field.”

This increased interest can be attributed in large part to the efforts of organizations like the Girl Scouts of the United States of America and Society of Women Engineers to engage more young women in the science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, fields from an early age through research and outreach programs.

This surplus of available and qualified female candidates for the positions complements Lee’s other explanation for the increase in female tech workers: an overall shortage of applicants.

“Companies can’t find enough workers for these positions, so they’re looking at all qualified applications and are open to hiring whoever is the best candidate,” regardless of gender, Lee said. “But that wasn’t the case some time ago, when they had more than enough applicants.”

While this doesn’t necessarily mean that IT companies intentionally discriminated against women, they were certainly more likely to consider a male applicant than a similarly qualified woman, Lee said. Now, though, employers have instituted more aggressive recruitment campaigns as well as female-friendly policies in an effort to attract and retain qualified women for their IT departments.

Dell Inc., for example, has implemented a number of programs in order to bring and keep more women into the workplace.

One such program is Women in Search of Excellence, its women’s employee resource group. WISE is Dell’s largest and oldest ERG, and there are 60 global WISE chapters comprising more than 7,000 members, according to Dana Keefer, Dell’s chief diversity officer and vice president of global talent management.

“Within these chapters, women can get together, network, help each other, do things that help the community, and then stay engaged in our business strategy at the same time,” Keefer said.

The company also sponsors and partners with organizations dedicated to encouraging the employment of female technology professionals, such as the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology, Catalyst and the Society of Women Engineers. This year, they are participating in Catalyst’s Men Advocating Real Change leadership program, which is designed “to engage men in helping to develop women as their careers progress,” Keefer said.

Google Inc. has also introduced programs to step up the percentages of female and minority employees revealed in its first publically released diversity report in May.

Only 17 percent of tech positions at Google are held by women, but in June the company announced it will pay for three months of continuing education for women and minorities already in tech professions. The partnership with Code School is part of Google’s $50 million Made With Code initiative, which focuses on encouraging young girls to learn how to code.

Overall, the key to the attraction and retention of women in IT professions, Keefer said, is creativity.

“You’ve got to be thinking in innovative ways to retain your talent,” Keefer said. “We’re trying to change the way people work.”

This story originally appeared in Diversity Executive's sister publication, Workforce.