While women have made considerable advancements in the workplace, there is ample room for improvement. Information Technology (IT) is one of these areas where women are greatly underrepresented. The number of women earning degrees in IT and the number of women employed in IT has declined since the mid-1980s. Why are women so underrepresented in IT, and how can we as a society encourage our elementary, middle, and high school girls to take an interest and enter this field?

Cultural and Educational Factors

Boys and girls form opinions early on about what kind of professions are “right” for them. Later, in college, women who begin to pursue IT might have second thoughts because of the mostly all-male environment they find themselves in…

  • “The Geek Factor:” Many high school girls envision IT jobs as nerdy, isolating and uncool
  • The influence of peers: If none of a girl’s female friends are pursuing IT, she may think she’s “different” for wanting to take that route
  •  The competitive atmosphere of many undergraduate classes tends to favor men
  • Hostile environments: Women might perceive certain settings to be  a “boys’ clubs” they can’t belong to

How to Encourage Your Daughter to Pursue IT

There’s a good chance your daughter is a perfect IT candidate: strong in math, comfortable around new software programs, curious, and inquisitive. If she has the inclination, don’t let it go to waste! Because of societal and peer-related barriers, your otherwise IT-interested daughter might not head toward IT. It is important for you to build her confidence so she can follow her natural inclination and IT dream.

Don’t Emphasize Gender Differences

Many well-meaning people will make assertions about how “women are just as good at IT as men.” The problem with emphasizing this statement of equality is that it creates a Stereotype Threat.  Studies have shown that simply being reminded of one’s inclusion in a sometimes negatively-stereotyped group (the old “Geek” or “Nerd” stereotype) can impact test performance. If your daughter already shows solid performance in math and computing or technology ability, continue to praise her successes, but avoid making it about gender.

Why We Need More Women in IT Fields

  • IT can maximize innovation and creativity: When women are excluded (or exclude themselves) from IT fields, it deprives the IT industry of talent that can make significant contributions and create innovative solutions.
  • IT might help reduce “group think”.
  • It can help bring much-needed insight to inventions and help improve the user-experience of women everywhere.  For example: The first airbags for cars were invented by a mostly male team of engineers, and they tailored the airbags to the male body. This resulted in avoidable deaths of women and children in automobiles.