"Why Women Leave IT" is the title of an article at a site called NewsFactor (which I had never heard of before today; I saw this link on Slashdot). My first reaction when I see articles like this linked on Slashdot is to cringe. Rarely are these articles insightful or helpful. And this article is no exception.
The article is short, and its main point seems to be this: About 10 years ago, women made up just over 40% of all workers in the information technology field. As of 2002, that number has dropped to 35% and, as the article breathily states, "the downward spiral is gaining momemtum." The article cites a study out of the University of Arkansas which has found the reason for this downward spiral. The reason? "[C]ertain facts of women's lives make staying ahead of the game harder than it is for men."
Yep, it's the Mommy Track argument all over again.
Now, I will grant you that the information technology field moves quickly. There are many innovations, new software comes out all the time, etc. You do have to make an effort to keep up with things. I don't dispute that at all. And I will also grant you, as the article/study point out, that women do tend to share more of the domestic responsibilites than men do, which may limit the time that they have to spend keeping up on the latest trends in the field. (And the article does make the excellent point that most training is held on evenings and/or weekends, which can be tough for anyone that has family responsibilities or any other responsibilities outside of work, like volunteering or whatever.)
What I do resent is the article's tone that this is the only reason, or the only important reason, for women leaving the IT field. And, to some extent, the article's tone that "this is the way things are, oh well." What the article leaves out are several other important factors that also may very well influence why women are leaving the IT field. Such as:
1. the whole dot-com bust. Lots of techies lost their jobs, lots of students stopped going for IT degrees. Past studies have shown (sorry, too lazy to find links) that these downturns disproportionately affect underrepresented groups: fewer of them choose to major in IT fields, perhaps in some cases they are the first to be let go from their jobs, and they are not hired back at the same rate as their male counterparts. So, their numbers shrink faster and grow back much more slowly.
2. Um, how about the whole "chilly climate" thing? Hello? Have we forgotten that the tech fields are still (not always, not everywhere, but it still exists) not all that friendly to women in the first place? The macho lone programmer mentality? The 12-year-old-with-no-social-skills as the accepted standard of behavior? The old boys network? The pseudo-social scientists running around reminding us that women are not supposed to be doing this hard technical stuff (and coworkers who may or may not agree; you just don't know for sure what they think).....
3. Less women in IT = less women entering IT. This is the whole "critical mass" argument. If there are less women around, the tendency will be to hire less women. Because we hire those who look like us, think like us, act like us. Women need to be at the table to bring more women to the table, so the downward spiral becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
In short, I'm really disappointed in this article. Here is a golden opportunity to take a problem (women are leaving IT in disproportionate numbers), examine one cause of this (the way women's lives tend to be structured, and the way the field operates, do not intersect), and oh, I don't know, use it as a springboard to discuss what's wrong with the field, not what's wrong with women. But that didn't happen. Why is it that we are so willing to accept things like this at face value and that we are so unwilling to discuss how to change the world to fit present realities?