Keys to bridging the IT gender gap

bridge the gap

Today’s global technology industry evolves and moves forward almost daily. But one thing hasn’t changed: women continue to be underrepresented in the IT workforce. What really causes this ongoing gender imbalance, and what can be done to reduce it?

The IT gender gap persists—and it may be growing.

According to McKinsey, the percentage of female IT workers has actually dropped in the United States in the past 25 years. Only 26 percent of U.S. IT workers are female, and women hold just 19 percent of college IT degrees. Similarly, in the UK, about 12 percent of software developers are women. What’s more, a recent study discovered that just 4 percent of U.S. IT workers are women of color.

Introducing more girls to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) activities right now could improve the gender mix of tomorrow’s IT workforce.

When analyzing why so few women work in tech, industry observers sometimes talk about the “pipeline problem.” If societies could dramatically increase the number of girls who are interested in STEM from a young age, this thinking goes, then more will emerge into the workforce one day as IT professionals. That’s why successfully creating interest in coding for more and more girls has become a critical goal for many companies, advocacy groups and schools.

Hands-on learning engages young STEM students, including teens.

Organizations such as Girls Who Code and Kode with Klossy seek to turn IT activities and skills into a life-long interest, creating a foundation for professional careers. Nonprofits like these provide engaging, hands-on learning that incorporates Lego bricks, video games and fun robotics competitions. They share stories with students about pioneering women coders and mathematicians, scientists and engineers who serve as inspirational role models. And they show that STEM skills often directly translate into innovations that make people’s lives better.

While “girls in STEM” programs may help reduce the gender gap soon, there’s more to consider.

McKinsey finds that technology companies currently focus about two-thirds of their STEM-education giving at the K-12 level, but just 3 percent on university students. Shifting that mix could create a new set of STEM career pathways for women in college and just after, smoothing their transition into the workforce. Also, researchers caution that deeply rooted cultural factors like unconscious bias and discrimination, including the glass-ceiling effect, would likely continue to present major barriers to the realization of gender balance no matter how many more women earn computer science degrees. Companies, industry leaders and communities will need to work together to help break stereotypes and combat bias.

Closing the IT gender gap promises to benefit individual companies, the technology industry and the global community.

Research has shown links between diverse workforces and increased profitability, more innovation and greater creativity. As IT teams look more like the clients they collaborate with, service and progress improve. In addition, enterprises that don’t recruit and hire from across the available talent pool may face risks to brand equity and reputation. But when enterprises make an effort to open doors and be inclusive, the world may benefit, too. That’s why the United Nations has designated February 11 each year as International Day of Women and Girls in Science to help create awareness of gender imbalances and the fact that less than 30 percent of scientific researchers are women. Righting gender imbalances across all STEM fields can help societies tap into the talent they need to achieve U.N. Sustainable Development Goals that require innovation and the implementation of technological advances.

At DXC, we have sought to understand and respond to these dynamics.

To contribute toward reducing the gender imbalance in the UK IT industry, DXC has recently taken action to help young women in the UK develop skills related to STEM, such as communication, critical thinking, collaboration and creativity, as part of preparing for IT careers or simply improving job-readiness. Specifically, DXC employees have worked closely with the STEMettes, a UK-based nonprofit organization that strives to encourage girls to pursue STEM careers through free and fun programs. For the group’s #MonsterConfidence Tours and other initiatives, DXC volunteers have worked with young women on resume-writing and interview techniques; shared insights about the different types of STEM careers open to them; and participated in career-focused panel discussions.

Similarly, through the Girls in IT program, DXC in Brazil recently provided female STEM students with an immersive, experiential introduction to working at a global IT services company. By offering technical workshops, mentoring and skill development for program participants within business units, we hope to influence career choices and promote gender diversity in the IT industry.

By some estimates, the need for expert IT and coding skills will grow by up to 90 percent between now and the 2030s. The IT skills shortage that is already unfolding may get worse as organizations in all industries invest in digital capabilities to stay competitive. How will enterprises cope? One obvious strategy is to expand the talent search into previously overlooked areas of the labor market. And that should mean bringing a much larger number of female IT professionals into the global technology arena where innovations emerge and opportunity thrives.

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