As I ran along our local trail this morning, re-establishing some semblance of a running schedule, I noticed that our town’s trail and landscape maintenance crews were out in full force and that most of the maintenance “men” were young women. The first group I came to included two small trucks moving slowly along the paved trail towing trailers for their industrial-strength mowers. The truck drivers and the mower drivers in that group were all women.
Why did I even take notice? It reminded me of my own industry – ICT (information and communications technology). The ICT industry – or just IT – faces enormous challenges in finding enough people to fill well-paying positions, and the lack of interest on the part of young women makes that challenge even tougher. This isn’t a new problem, but it is one we sure would like to turn around. The trades are in a similar situation.
This past week I attended a lunch meeting we hold every 6 weeks or so for local women in the IT sector. We get together to provide networking opportunities for women in what has become a male-dominated field. We also aim to provide mentoring to younger colleagues and to search for ways to get the word out to young women that our field is full of promise for them. At our most recent gathering, someone spoke on strategies to encourage young girls – and their parents – to think about employment opportunities in non-traditional careers for women, what is sometimes called Tech(nology) and Trades.
Why are Tech and Trade careers important for girls to consider (as well as guys):
1. There is high demand for these jobs now, a demand that is likely to continue and grow for a very long time.
2. These are high-paying jobs. The young women who I saw working as grounds crew this morning would be making higher wages in those summer job than if they were working in retail or office jobs.
3. Information technology impacts nearly every aspect of our lives. If no more than 20% of the IT workforce is female, then many design decisions on how we interact with technology are going to be made solely from a male perspective. It is important to all of us that there is a female voice involved.
The mystifying part of the low rate of participation of young women in IT and computer science programs is that it didn’t start out that way. This is a relatively young field, one that actually does not have a history of male dominance or prejudice against women. In the early years, from the 1960s to the mid-1980s the percentage of women going into computer science programs was about 40%. Then it started to take a downward turn pretty well everywhere in the western world, to where in most places 20% is about as good as it gets. There are lots of theories about why this happened, which include computers coming into the schools and being associated with the self-identified computer “geeks”, turning off many boys and nearly all girls. It may be nothing more than people not understanding the huge variety of career opportunities that can found with a foundation in IT.
With a knowledge of IT fundamentals and relevant accompanying skills, career possibilities include: programmers and software developers, web designers and developers, business analysts, project managers, e-learning and e-training designers, technical documentation writers, usability testers and quality assurance specialists, multimedia designers and developers, game developers, human-computer interaction specialists, user trainers, and so much more. The world needs all of the above, in spades.
Contrary to the common perception that programmers work alone in front of a screen all the time, most IT jobs require people to work in teams, to work with the people who will use your final product as well as colleagues who will help develop the product. Abilities such as communication skills, artistic skills, writing skills, organizational skills, curriculum development, teaching and business knowledge may be important or even critical, depending on the career or project you’re interested in.
IT jobs and projects have a positive impact in whatever domain they are focused. You may be involved in a project to improve health care, to allow artisans in an underdeveloped country to sell their goods globally from their village, to teach students about protecting the environment, to develop apps for children or yoga, to help someone’s company be more efficient in a competitive environment, or to develop the newest form of social networking. The sky is the limit.
If you know any young people not sure what they’d like to do with their lives, help them put a career in IT on their list. If you’re thinking of making a change yourself, here’s an option!