Friday, March 08, 2024

Women in Tech 2024: A Failing Report Card

I'm sorry to post this on International Women's Day, but the IT industry has been failing women for . . . well, forever.

As the father of a smart, nerdy, left-brained woman, I have tried to do what I can in my business and profession to improve the environment for women in our industry. But I'm sad to report that our industry has been headed in the wrong direction for decades. Like my daughter, MOST women with aptitude for this industry never give it serious consideration as a career.

Only 27% of women ever consider a career in tech. This compares to 62% of men.* There are two primary reasons for this. The well-documented reason is that women do not advance in tech careers the way men do. The stats on this are overwhelming and not improving. We need to create paths for women to move up.

Women in IT 2024 - heading in the wrong direction

The other major reason is that women simply do not choose to enter our industry at all. Why? They do not feel welcome. While we as an industry make some effort to increase awareness and advancement, we have failed on making women feel like this is a great career choice for them.

"The numbers" are one thing. But numbers can change when attitudes change and women feel welcome to be part of our industry.

Note: The focus of my concern is not women in marketing, support services, or front office. Where we are failing is female business owners and female technicians. Those of us who are active in the industry can all name ten or even twenty women in these roles in the SMB IT community. And that is a very, very sad number.

A lot of the stats are driven by large companies (with 10,000 or more employees each). In the SMB space, the numbers are much, much worse. Twenty years ago, more than ten percent of conference attendees in the SMB space were women. Today, it's around three percent.

This is not just about "awareness training" and educating mid-marketing hiring managers. We have active discrimination against women in our industry

No one wants to talk about it publicly, but many women do not feel safe or welcome at many in-person events in our industry. So, they opt out and visible numbers reflect this. 

More than half of the women in our industry say that they have experienced sexual harassment.** But if you ask a group of women in a live setting, they will all jump on that statistic and say it is way too low. Many will argue that the number is closer to 100%.

In "Big Tech," women are about 27% of the employment force. This number is down from just a few years ago. And the situation is worse in SMB. Nationwide, women own about forty percent of all small businesses. That sounds great. But no one would argue that the numbers for SMB IT are anywhere near that.

We Need a More Realistic Action Plan

I have served on several committees with names that focus on women in IT, but time and time again, the results are the same: These committees are filled with lots of people from sales, marketing, and management, often from larger companies. There are few or no women who own small businesses or are technicians in small businesses.

These groups are very good at getting articles published and good PR. And we need that! But we also need to do more to reach out to young women and make them feel welcome in this industry. We have started the good work of making women more visible in our industry. But we are clearly failing to make them feel welcome

And we are failing at the only thing that will make a difference in the long-run: Convincing women to start IT consulting businesses or choose a career as helpdesk engineers.

A few years ago, I offered $100 stipend to any woman in our industry who wanted to attend a specific conference I was being paid to speak at. The result was tremendous - twenty-five women attended an event with about a hundred total attendees. This was NOT about the money. They could all afford $100. The difference was: There was a concerted effort to invite women and make them feel welcome.

I fully admit: I don't have the answer.

I don't know how we overcome this sixty-year-old challenge.

But we have to do something. Our daughters are missing out because they are opting out. Our industry  and community are missing out because we have alienated half of our potential membership. And women are missing out because IT consulting is a GREAT career. Technicians earn good money. And we generally have flexible hours. Business owners in IT can build a very nice lifestyle. And the flexibility for owners is better than just about any industry, anywhere.

It starts with awareness. I hope there are a few men still reading to the end of this blog. Why? Because it's the men who have to make this happen. We need to figure out ways to make this industry a place where the entire population feels welcome. 

There's an interesting irony in all of this: Tech people tend to be REALLY smart. We solve puzzles for a living. We figure things out. So we absolutely can solve this problem if we try. We just have to decide, as an industry, that it's time to try. It's time to actively encourage women to get into IT, to get the training, get the jobs, and start the businesses.

I'm sorry I don't have the answers, but I do have the faith that we can do anything we set our minds to. We can make women feel welcome and safe at our conferences. We can welcome them to our meetings and events. We can start today to figuring this out.

I am open to any suggestions you might have. Throw them in the comments. 

It's International Women's Day. And I celebrate all the amazing women I've had the pleasure of working with. I just wish more of them were in the industry I call home.

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 * AI Bees has a nice historical summary and some sobering statistics here:

 ** Jessica Hubbert has a great collection of stats on the Exploding Topics web site, here:


1 comment:

  1. Anonymous1:05 PM

    I've always wondered this myself. I'm honestly uncomfortable working with women now because all the crap that's been going on with woman getting men fired without cause because you have to carefully word your interactions with woman now so you don't end up in HR.


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