It’s hard to argue that the IT industry suffers from an extreme lack of gender balance. What is up for debate is the reason—or reasons—why. Depending on who you ask, you’ll hear a multitude of varying, often conflicting, reasons for why this disparity exists.
The explanation that girls simply aren’t interested in IT is simplistic and inaccurate. CompTIA, the nonprofit association for the technology industry, recently commissioned a study to identify the real reasons behind the industry’s gender gap, aiming to encourage and inform girls, parents and teachers about career prospects in tech. Through a survey and in conversations with students between the ages of 10 and 17, CompTIA discovered how girls perceive IT careers—and what needs to change to reshape those perceptions for the better. Here are some of the key findings:
- As girls age, their interest in pursuing an IT career wanes. Today’s middle and high schoolers are digital natives, but girls’ inherent understanding of tech is less likely to translate to career aspirations as they get older. Twenty-seven percent of girls ages 10 to 13 have considered an IT career (versus 47 percent of boys), but that drops to 18 percent among girls between ages 14 and 17. Girls’ inclination to pursue specific IT job titles drops with age, as well. While 10 percent of middle school girls express an interest in programming, but that slims to 4 percent for girls in high school.
- Girls rule out IT before they fully understand what a tech job entail. More than half of girls say they would be more interested in IT if they knew more about available jobs in the industry. Many simply don’t realize they have the qualities it takes to succeed in a tech career—or even what those careers could be. In many girls’ minds, working in IT boils down to two options: troubleshooting smartphones and other consumer gadgets, or working alone in front of a computer screen all day. Without understanding all that technology jobs have to offer, girls’ career aspirations default to known quantities like teaching, nursing and art. One key way to promote this awareness is to pair girls with mentors and role models who already work in the field. As the research found, among girls who have considered pursuing an IT career, 60 percent know someone with an IT career.
- Technology classes leave gaps, too. Only 32 percent of girls who’ve taken a technology course have considered an IT career, a relatively small increase from 23 percent of girls overall. That’s partially because today’s middle and high school tech classes are often loosely defined. Depending on the district, a “tech class” can be anything from a keyboarding course to a graphic design prerequisite. In many instances, current tech curriculum fails to teach the hard skills necessary to succeed in IT,
instead opting for basic literacy rather than full comprehension of technical concepts. Coupled with a lack of adequately trained teachers at the head of classrooms, girls aren’t learning enough of the right information that would propel them towards IT career paths.
Regardless of company size or industry, technology is increasingly vital to organizations’ success. Hiring managers are already pressed to find and retain talented IT professionals. To fill these roles we need all hands on deck. By understanding what drives and detracts from girls’ interest in IT careers, employers, families, and educators can all contribute to the deconstruction of the gender gap for good.