Message From The CIO: Send More Women!

by drjim on October 21, 2009

Photo CreditCIOs Know That IT Departments Need More Women To Be Successful

CIOs Know That IT Departments Need More Women To Be Successful

Ok all you CIOs wannabes, guess what one of your first problems is going to be once you assume control of the IT department? No, not that innovation thing. Nor will it be finding new ways to cut costs. Somewhat amazingly considering that we are living in the enlightened 21st Century — you will need to find more women.

Your gender doesn’t matter to me – when you are CIO you’re going to have the same staffing problem no matter which restroom you currently use. A bunch of researchers (LeAnne Coder, et. al.) have taken a look at the number of women working in IT and frankly, it’s not looking good (or hadn’t you noticed?). Way back in 1983 women made up 43% of the IT workforce. Since then the number of folks working in IT has doubled, but the number of women in the field has fallen to 26%. Hey CIO, you’ve got a problem!

Why Is This An Issue?

Remember that diversity thing that everyone is always harping about? When you have an IT department that is made up of primarily men, you’ve failed on the diversity front.

IT problems require creative thinking in order to be solved. This creativity stems from having IT professionals on your staff who come from different backgrounds and who have a wide range of experiences. This won’t happen nearly often enough if you just have a bunch of guys working in your department. CIOs need more women.

Where Did All Of The Women Go?

This lack of women in IT issue is not new – it’s been a problem almost since the start of the profession. However, it’s reaching a critical point now and when you become CIO you’re going to have to find a way to solve it. However, before you can do that, you’re going to have to understand why we have a problem in the first place.

It turns out that not all jobs are created equal. For that matter, not all workers have equal interests in what kind of jobs that they want to do. A clever psychological test called the Strong Interest Inventory (SII) has revealed that there are six types of job personalities out there:

  • Realistic: likes working with tools or machines in an explicit or ordered way
  • Investigative: requires creative investigation of issues
  • Artistic: ambiguous, free, non-systematic manipulation of materials to create art or products
  • Social: likes jobs that require you to lead or interact with others
  • Enterprising: wants to work with others to achieve specific business goals
  • Conventional: does explicit, ordered manipulation of data

People choose a career field that best matches their type of job personality. Guess what? Most of today’s IT workers (men) seek Realistic and Investigative types of jobs – the majority of women seem to seek all of the other types.

What Are You Going To Do In Order To Fix This Problem?

When you become CIO you are going to have to find a way to solve this understaffing of women in IT problem. Just having a more booths at job fairs or telling your HR staff to “hire more women” is not going to solve the problem.

At the heart of this problem is the simple fact that most IT jobs are not attractive to most women. This means that no matter how hard you try, you’re not going to be able to get enough qualified women candidates (unless there’s a global recession and even then they won’t stick around once things get better).

As CIO there are two things that you are going to have to do in order find a solution: advertising and redefining. The outside world has little if any understanding of just what IT professionals do – we work in a world of mystery. You’ve got to get the word out and make sure that everyone in the company knows just what an IT job consists of.

Studies have shown that the majority of women working in IT today “fell” into the profession – they were working in a different career and accidentally discovered that they had the talents and interest to work in IT. This means that by telling other working women about IT jobs, you’ve got a good chance that you’ll be able to attract them to come work for you – no more having to rely on college career fairs to attract women candidates.

Finally, you’re going to need to redefine the existing jobs in your IT department in order to make them more attractive to women. This will go a long way in attracting more of them. Adding artistic or social characteristics to an otherwise realistic / investigative IT job would open it up to a more diverse set of potential women candidates.

Final Thoughts

The lack of women in IT is not a problem that just showed up overnight and so it’s not going to go away tomorrow. However, when you become CIO this is an issue that you’re going to have to tackle.

Lifting the veil of secrecy that currently surrounds what an IT job consists of to the rest of the company is a great first step. Following this up by recasting the IT jobs in your department to include characteristics that will make them more attractive to women is the necessary next step. Not only can you solve this problem, as the CIO you must solve it.

Does anyone else in your company have a good idea just what goes on in the IT department?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

In the future, CIOs are going to have a whole new set of security issues that come along with the popularity of virtual machines. The rules for how best to secure these boxes that really aren’t boxes have not been established yet. What can you do to make yourself ready to take on this new challenge?

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Bruce October 21, 2009 at 10:18 am

Two questions: Is this really a problem? You state that IT problems require creative problem solving, but equating this with a need for women in IT implies that men are not creative (or creative enough) and/or diverse enough of background to form highly successful teams unless women are included as well. But you don’t offer anything to support that assertion.

Now, if we go ahead and assume that having more women in IT will produce tangible, positive results– as you have– the next question becomes: Is the return worth the effort it will take to increase those numbers?

I do agree with the idea of redefining job roles to make them more attractive to women. If done in a sensible way, this is a good approach.

On the other hand, since “most IT jobs are not attractive to most women” advertising would seem to be a poor use of resources. “Veil of secrecy”? If you have reasonable job descriptions, how is IT different than other departments? Or at least those that require specialized knowledge (finance or engineering, e.g. might have job descriptions equally challenging to a layman).

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Dr. Jim Anderson October 23, 2009 at 3:52 pm

Bruce: great use of negative logic! Sp let’s tackle your first point — are men not creative enough? The answer to this question lies not in the gender issue, but rather that pesky word “enough”. I’m reasonably confidant that left to their own devices, men can pretty much come up with a solution to any problem. However, that doesn’t mean that it will be the best solution. A poor example of this would be if you somehow had a very ugly growth show up on your face, what would you do to look more attractive? A guy would probably grow a beard to hide it. A woman would start to use makeup to cover it up. Which solution is correct — I don’t know, but they are two different ways to solve a problem that guys probably couldn’t come up with on their own…

Remember, most IT jobs are unattractive to women because of what they require you to do. Break them apart and recombine them and you can probably make both genders more happy…

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