Young women future of tech field

Information technology spending is projected to increase 6.9 percent to $1.8 trillion this year, and 20 percent of that spending will continue to go to mobile and social technologies. This will cause significant management and security headaches as these trends continue to reshape the IT industry. One of the greatest new challenges to enterprises large and small is trying to make sense of an ever growing, new found abundance of free flowing customer data.

Jill Van Hoesen

As companies continue to learn how to balance these technical challenges, with the new opportunities they present, businesses will also be struggling with the shortage of skilled workers. The IT job market was predicted to 12 percent in 2011 and expected to stay strong throughout 2012. The IT unemployment rate should hover around 4 percent, well below the national average. Technical professionals with highly demanded skills like virtualization and cloud computing, mobile application development or business analytical experience will not have a problem finding a job and women could have a distinct advantage.

Audrey McLean, CEO of Adaptive, said “I believe that, despite data on the dearth of women in technology, tech doesn’t have a barrier up to women.  In fact, if anything, women who are technically prepared have an advantage and if more women prepared themselves academically for tech jobs, they’d get hired.”  She continued by saying, “Career opportunities will be greater in tech and if women don’t get the required technical skills they won’t be positioned to move into core, general management roles.”

Harvard Business Review’s Athena Factor project shows that woman are actually excelling in technology and gaining some distance on their career paths. The research shows that between the ages of 25 and 30, 41 percent of the young tech talent is female.  Attrition spikes between 35 and 40 and throughout the next decade it is predicted that nearly 50 percent of women who have aspired to technology careers, plan to retire.  Unless a strong supply of replacements is recruited now, a further decline in the representation of women in technology from a mere 37 percent of technology leaders today to less than 25 percent is expected.  The Computerworld article “Why Women Quit Technology Careers” states that a small and sadly declining percentage of women want to pursue a technology degree or want to enter the technology career field. The Athena Factor further reports that woman across most industries, not just tech, will often take a break, but in many fields women will try to get back into the industry they most recently left. However, in the technology field it is closer to 60 percent of women saying they would be willing to give it another try when they returned to the workforce.

Mentoring and its importance to women in technology jobs has been the topic of countless research. It has been observed that a mentor plays one of the most important roles in a woman’s successful technology career.  Sheila Flavell, COO of FDM Group, believes that the technique is especially relevant for women working in the IT field.

“Currently, the industry remains largely male-dominated and the prospect of operating within a distinct minority, coupled with the fact that there is an even greater lack of women in senior positions, often deters women from this lucrative industry,” she said. “Therefore, although the method is clearly applicable to all industries, I believe that female mentorship could become an incredibly useful tool for creating and sustaining a strong female workforce with the IT industry.”

We need to start early, pairing mentors with young talent mapping career paths, insuring insulation from isolation and developing healthy work-life balances. These proactive steps can help insure success in a technology career and the unique demands it places on its 21st century workforce.

Jill Van Hoesen is chief information officer for Johnson Newspapers and a 25-year IT veteran. Contact her at jvanhoesen@wdt.net