The Wrong Question about Women in IT


The junk we consume

I have been hearing rumblings on the topic of women in the information Technology (IT) sector for years, in fact most of my career. I have never really give it much thought before as I have never considered myself in IT.

Now I attended a talk the other night on the subject, and this got me thinking.   Why aren’t there a lot of women in traditional IT roles – where have all the women in IT gone?

Now let’s go back in time, it seems that about when I went to university (1981) that was the start of the decline in the number of women in the IT sector.

Now a lot of things happened around that time and into the mid-eighties, besides bad hair and disco:

  • The PC revolution started.
  • Information Management branched out
  • Business Analysis matured
  • Data Analysis was readily available
  • Project Management moved to a serious role
  • Biotech started to happen
  • Library Science was taken seriously

Now back then the IT teams, from what I recall, were equally balanced with men and women, all clustered around the good old 3270 terminals, coding away.

The Core Reason.

Here we have a traditional environment where men and women are relativity equally engaged in IT.   Then in comes the PC cowboys, and they disrupt, and slowly destroy the old school ways, until they were in charge of the IT shop.

The real kicker here is the PC revolution, which tipped the IT establishment on its head, much like mobile is today, maybe the fire starter of the women exiting IT.

You know during this PC revolution 99% of the time the people implementing the supporting desktop computers were men.   All these men were usually self-taught, from their darkly lit back rooms.  Hence the realm of the PC became a man’s world.

This is where, i believe the problem of bad IT image also started.

The Wrong Question.

Now maybe  we are really asking the wrong question, I don’t think it’s really “where have they gone?”   More a case of “Where are they now?”

Maybe it’s not a case of women not being in IT, but a case of the roles they are occupying are not longer, in their mindsets, in the IT sector.

Also remember what we think of as IT has changed over time.

Looking at IT now; it’s sliding towards just being a infrastructure utility with support roles, much like say the power or phone system is for an organisation.

Development teams are also now stepping away and aligning themselves with other domains such as information management, digital delivery or marketing, following a more functional role model.

The Hypothesis.

My hypothesis is this – many of traditional job roles that used to attract a lots of women in the early period of the IT industry, have now outgrown the industry and have effectively just been absorbed into the normal corporate environment.  Leaving the IT industry of today a mere shadow of its former self.

I don’t have any evidence, it’s just a hypothesis, my correlation could be completely off and I bet others have debated it to death.  Still it maybe worth considering.

This doesn’t account for why there is a lack of women in digital designers and development.

Again I think the PC user image is to blame here.  After all there are a lot of women designers, but not as many in the hard core digital design space.

Maybe IT is just spending too much time on the looking at the boring “shiny tech” when it should be looking at people.   You know most people aren’t impressed with the “shiny tech” in the long term anymore.

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