by Conrad Weisert, March 2, 2005
©2005 Information Disciplines, Inc.
IDI's "Issue of the Month" for March, 2005. This article may be circulated freely as long as the copyright credit is included
The president of Harvard University stirred up vigorous discussion last month by wondering in public why women are underrepresented in academic mathematics and science. Mature I.T. professionals, too, have been wondering why fewer and fewer of our younger colleagues are female.
When I started my I.T. career, roughly half of the programmers were women. They were developing and maintaining scientific-engineering applications, business applications, and system software.
Most of the managers, of course, were men. Men also dominated professional and user-group meetings, where typical attendance and committee membership was typically about one fifth female. Women, however, were usually well represented among such organization's officers and committee chairs.
In the past year most meetings of the Chicago Chapter of the ACM attracted just one or two women, several none at all. It has been six years since a woman was a chapter officer or even a candidate for office. The same phenomenon applies in other professional organizations and user groups in America.
At the same time, female enrollment in university Computer Science programs has diminished dramatically. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the ranks of working women among computing professionals is dropping.
This phenomenon doesn't stem from discrimination against women, but rather from self selection. "Women aren't interested in computer technology", we're told. In an era that has seen growth in the ranks of professional and executive women in many fields, what accounts for their lack of interest in information technology?
I've heard no fully convincing explanation. Some observers, including a number of women, point to the unreasonable demands employers are making on the staff's time. (What Ever Happened to the Work Week?) Women may be less willing than men to put up with unreasonable demands week after week. Another factor may be women's disgust at the increasingly undignified image of our profession portrayed in the media. (Offensive and Demeaning Designations for Computing Professionals Reappearing) It's not obvious that any of those factors should apply more to women than to men. Send me your theories and I'll include them in a follow-up article.
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Last modified March 22, 2005