On Monday, The Economist published an article on the topic of women in information technology careers. It is a topic that ought to be familiar to anyone who has been paying attention to public discourse about the IT field or political narratives regarding economic policy and gender disparities. Many people regard it as a problem that women represent a rather small minority of IT professions; and the article points out that this trend persists despite the fact that women now account for more than half of the college-educated population, and nearly half of those who have careers in the physical and social sciences.
There may be reasonable disagreement about whether gender disparities in any given profession are a problem in the first place. But given the lucrative outcomes that tend to follow information technology training, we should certainly want to provide young women with every opportunity to find a pathway into that field, if that is what they desire.
The problem, according to the Economist article, is that it often isn’t what they desire. But this probably isn’t because of any natural disinterest in the field on the part of girls and young women. And it probably isn’t because of gender differences in the actual ability to acquire the skills needed to fulfill a programmer analyst’s or a training and development specialist’s job responsibilities.
Rather, The Economist argues that women tend to shy away from information technology training later in life because they are prejudiced against it by their early education and social experiences. The argument seems persuasive, and of course it raises the question of how we as a society can counteract its effects, and how young women themselves can push back against it and pursue information technology training in spite of social expectations and preconceptions.
The article provides some recommended steps, and we recommend reading about them if the topic is of interest to you. But we also believe that we can add something to the discussion. In fact, it seems to us that The Economist mainly just addressed the topic of broad-based social changes, neglecting the idea of individual and small-group efforts to give today’s young women a better chance to choose their own path.
Broad social change will be needed to make information technology training commonplace among young women. But while we are all waiting on that change, other steps will have to be taken to improve women’s outcomes in a field that was apparently not designed with them in mind. And of course, one way of bridging the gap in access to IT training is through online information technology training.
Not only does this provide young women (and also young men) with an opportunity to overcome problems of educational access, it also gives parents, teachers, and other stakeholders a chance to encourage an interest in information technology, no matter what age it begins to show itself. Through online information technology training, people can resist the social pressures that might otherwise have compelled them to avoid the field. They can explore their developing interests in the comfort of their homes, even if their social circumstances offer little support. And as a result, they may well see a future for themselves in a field that has yet to fully embrace them.