Take a good look around at any IT vendor or channel partner event and you’ll find an appalling lack of women looking back at you. Like many other technology-driven fields, the IT channel is a boy’s club, and it’s about time someone did something about it.
So where does this problem originate? Are women simply uninterested in enterprise technology, or is there some deeper reason for their general lack of presence in IT?
I recently spoke to Sara Straley, assistant vice president of Marketing and Pricing at AT&T, to discuss how the role of women in the channel is changing as well as the importance of bringing more women into what has traditionally been a male-dominated industry.
According to Straley, current women leaders are critical in standing up for the advancement of women and in encouraging young girls to invest in the STEM fields. At AT&T, Straley said there are currently 84,000 female employees, which comprises about 35 percent of the company’s total workforce. While this number is slightly higher than average for other enterprise tech firms, Straley said there is still a long way to go if we hope to achieve true gender diversity in the channel.
“We all have a role, both men and women, of continually moving the ball forward,” she said, in an interview with The VAR Guy. “We owe it to the next generation of future leaders to keep pushing.”
The most recent national figures for the number of women in IT show only 26 percent of professional computing occupations in the U.S. workforce were held by females in 2014, according to a study from The National Center for Women and Information Technology. In terms of leadership, women held only 6 percent of corporate Chief Information Officer positions in the same year.
Figures are much more dire for minority women, with the NCWIT reporting only three percent of the computing workforce was comprised of African-American women in 2014. Similarly, five percent of Asian women occupied jobs in the computing workforce, with a paltry one percent of jobs occupied by Hispanic women.
Straley said one way in which the IT industry can promote young women to engage in a STEM career is for companies to create both formal and informal education programs for students and to spread the word about the opportunities available for them in the sciences. By showing young women that others have been successful in these fields, they can encourage them to pursue roles that have typically been occupied by men. Current women leaders also need to pursue mentorship roles so they can work directly with future businesswomen.
“Women can’t be what they can’t see,” said Straley. “When you look at the younger generations from before there might not have been a lot of women in the STEM fields and so there wasn’t this large group of role models or women to look up to. And I think we’re starting to see that shift a little bit.”
Another issue Straley touched on was the importance of making gender a non-issue in IT, which is a statement I’ve heard from other members of the IT community as well. It’s absolutely a good idea to promote and highlight female leaders and to showcase their talents, but there are those who say gender shouldn’t even be a factor in today’s modern business landscape. In some instances, highlighting gender differences can do more harm than good, because it points out how leaders are different rather than celebrating their business achievements.
“There are so many ways to get involved in this industry,” she said. ”There is no one size fits all or just one path into this industry. There’s a lot of ways you can get engaged and get involved and help [to make] gender a non-issue in this field.”
We have come a long way in promoting gender equality in the workforce, but there is still a long fight ahead of us if we wish to achieve true balance among men and women in the IT field. It’s up to each of us to do our part and fight to create more diversity in IT – aside from the morality of the subject, it’s simply just good for business.
The Millennial Report is a weekly column by associate editor Michael Cusanelli, who graduated from Stony Brook University’s School of Journalism in 2013. He is an avid gamer and movie buff who spends nearly as much time concocting the perfect mix tape as he does writing. You can find him on Twitter @MCusanelliSB.