Making IT Work for Women
In her early years as an IT professional, Monique McKeon found that work/life balance was a struggle. Two of her early employers — a large software firm and a Big 6 consultancy — were somewhat unclear on the concept. At the consultancy, her travel schedule kept her out of town more than she was comfortable with. Then, when her first child was born, the bottom fell out. “I heard through the grapevine that one of the partners said I wasn’t as committed as before I had children,” she says. “That was the day I started looking for a job.
McKeon eventually found a welcoming culture at The Chubb Corp., where she is now an application manager, but other women in IT simply leave the industry. And fewer women are embarking on IT careers in the first place. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the percentage of women in the IT profession today has dropped to 26.1% from 28.9% in 2001. And the future looks even worse: According to the National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT), just 21% of computer science degrees go to women today, compared with 37% in 1985.
So, what’s gone wrong here? Some blame lingering stereotypes of geeky programmers working in isolation; others point at societal messages that discourage women from pursuing math-and science-oriented careers. Once on the job, the peer pressure to put in punishing hours — the “last jacket on the chair wins” mentality that pervades some IT shops — can also be a turn-off, especially for women, says Jenny Slade, communications director at the NCWIT.
And problems for women in IT sometimes extend beyond work/life balance, says Eileen Trauth, professor of information sciences and technology at Pennsylvania State University. “I’ve heard women talk about pinups, not being invited to lunch and the kinds of jokes people tell,” she says, emphasizing that these are anecdotes from her research, not problems that all women have encountered.
I’ve been ready to leave the industry for a long time. Just don’t know where to go.