Nationwide trends show women’s presence in information technology professions has dropped since 1990, and local schools and IT companies are seeing the same patterns.
“We’ve seen the same sort of trends,” said James Curran, dean of the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee’s College of Business. “About 20 percent of our population for the IT major is female. That’s much lower than other areas in business.”
In the 2011-2012 school year, USFSM had 119 students in its information technology program with a 24 percent female and 76 percent male split. In 2015-2016, 146 students were enrolled with a 16 percent female, 84 percent male division.
USFSM hosted a “tech-savvy” event for teenage girls on June 4, and aspiring college students could explore STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) career paths. USFSM Director of Communications and Marketing Charlie Terenzio said the USFSM faculty is brainstorming other events and ideas to encourage young women to enter STEM fields, led by the three out of four female faculty in USFSM’s IT department.
Assistant Professor Giti Javidi is one of those faculty members. For the past 12 years, Javidi has worked with the National Center for Women in Information Technology to create programs in high school, middle and elementary schools encouraging interest and enthusiasm for computers and programming.
“In order to inspire girls to pursue STEM we have to go beyond high school and middle school,” Javidi said. “We have to start at elementary school.”
She talked about activities such as teaching young students to program a robot and hosting “breakfast bytes,” where students can have breakfast with professors and talk about computer systems. All of USFSM’s IT faculty have volunteered to mentor students ages 13 to 18 at the upcoming #SRQHacks hack-a-thon, where people meet to engage in collaborative computer programming.
The U.S. Census Bureau released data in August showing, unsurprisingly, that employment in information technology careers has increased tenfold since 1970. But between 1990 and 2014, the proportion of women in IT professions dropped from 31 percent to 25 percent.
31 percent in 1990 to 25 percent in 2014Drop in proportion of women employed in information technology professions nationwide
“The Census Bureau first identified IT occupations in the 1970 census,” Julia Beckhusen, a senior economist in the Census Bureau’s Industry and Occupation Statistics Branch, said in the Census Bureau release. “At that time, there were only three IT occupation categories. That number grew to 12 by 2010 as the variety of work continued to increase.”
Manatee Technical College reported a fluctuating but generally downward trend in its IT program, comprising applied cyber security, computer systems and information technology, network support services and web development, since the 2013-2014 school year:
▪ 2013-2014: 64 total students, 31 percent female
▪ 2014-2015: 61 total, 18 percent female
▪ 2015-2016: 53 total, 23 percent female
▪ 2016-2017 headcount to date: 50 total, 16 percent female
Star2Star Communications, a company that takes voice, video, mobile and fax communications and combines them into one system for clients like Long John Silver’s, Goodwill and Dollar General, sees similar divides. Among the company’s approximately 300-person workforce, 32 percent are female. Developers are the majority of Star2Star’s IT workforce, said Star2Star Talent Programs Manager Patricia Yero, and most of them are male.
Last year, area job placement agency CareerSource Suncoast registered more than 3,200 job-seeking women. Less than 1 percent listed computer occupations as their desired industry, according to the agency’s Business and Economic Development Director Anthony Gagliano, while about 3.6 percent of males listed IT professions as their preferred industry.
Video games are designed more for males than females
Joel Hall, IT programs teacher at Manatee Technical College
Joel Hall, who teaches network support services and computer systems and information technology at Manatee Technical College, isn’t sure why more women aren’t working in IT, but echoed Javidi’s thoughts that interest starts at an early age.
“It just seems from video games to Internet surfing to be more appealing to males than females,” Hall said. “I think it has to do a lot with, especially with this generation, video games are designed more for males than females. They play video games on computers, then the computer doesn’t work and they have to figure out how to make it work to play their video games.”
Hall has worked in technology-related professions all his life and said he’s noticed more females taking on management roles in IT occupations. Of the 12 IT professions identified by a Census Bureau 2014 survey, women occupy the highest proportion in computer systems analysts and database administrators, at 36.2 percent and 35.8 percent, respectively.