Saturday, June 25, 2005

IT: The unfriendliest profession?

As I've written about before, the number of women (and their percentage) receiving degrees in computer science and related information technology (IT) fields has greatly declined over the last 20 years. And, as I've opined, one good reason for this is the nature of the IT workplace, well summarized by the following quote from the Tech Republic article linked from the title above:

In many ways, IT is unfriendly [to women] because of the nature of the job. IT is a 24/7 job. Achieving any significant position in IT often means putting your career before many other aspects of your life. You will find yourself putting in 70- or 80-hour weeks, becoming deeply committed to both the short-term and long-term needs of your career, and this will result in the loss of time spent with family or in personal activities.

When asked in a recent survey if their IT jobs were meeting expectations, 52 percent of women said they worked more hours than expected. The same survey stated that 40 percent of the men felt the same way. It is hard work, and most people, especially those who want to participate in a significant family life, are not willing to make the sacrifice.

While there are certainly many other factors involved, simply put: women are less accepting of sacrificing their lives on the altar of their company's bottom line. One way to look at this is that, traditionally, this has been expected of men and so men are acculturated to it. Or maybe women just have more sensible priorities. In any event, as an educator in this field, and given these characteristics of the field, I'm not surprised that enrollment craters whenever the job market begins to look even a bit bad.

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  1. Wasn't the 80-hour work week one of Larry Summer's excuses for why there are so few female science professors?

  2. I have to admit that I didn't pay a whole lot of attention to what Summers said; it was too easy a target. Of course, there is a difference between faculty positions and the bulk of jobs in computer science (or science). I would argue that it is unreasonable at the very least for the majority of positions in a profession to require workers to live for their employers alone (with perhaps the exception of the Church). Again, not having read what Summers said, if work conditions exclude entire classes of people, based not on ability but on their desire to put up with those conditions, then I'd say the problem is with the job, not the potential job seekers.

  3. Studies like this bother me, because it makes it look like women don't have the same work ethic as men. I think it's a generalization that's all too easy to make and the same sort of argument that my alma mater (Caltech) made against admitting women until 1974 ("they'll just get married and stay home having babies, so why bother wasting an education on them?").

    I know plenty of women (in fact, most of the women I know, including myself) whose career comes first and have the same drive as our husbands to have a satisfying, well-paying career.

    Plus, this doesn't explain why there are so few minorities in IT/CS. Admittedly, I haven't read the entire study.

    I'm not in favor of singling out women as the reason we need to make IT careers less demanding of all of our waking attention. That should be done to make it a field more attractive to everyone. Of course, I've never had a job, even in academia, that didn't require full devotion and crappy hours, so I'm amazed that such a thing would exist, and still be an interesting place to work.

  4. I meant to say that I never had a job, in academia or industry, that didn't require at least 60 hour weeks. Didn't mean to imply academia was an easier place to be :).


  5. That [making IT careers less demanding of all of our waking attention] should be done to make it a field more attractive to everyone.

    Amen. There is more to life than work. No doubt, that statement will label me as an unambitious slacker in many people's minds.

  6. Yes, just like people who come in early, work 8 or 9 hours and go home by 5 or even 6 are labeled as such at Microsoft. (In my experience). Just that perception of "leaving early" can get you that label of being someone who doesn't work very hard, even if you're extremely efficient (and in your office 3 hours before everyone else even gets to work!) . I found that to be true in grad school as well - the folks who spent 12 hours in the lab were considered hard workers, even if half the time was spent drinking coffee, etc. while those that tried to keep a normal schedule were labeled as not being serious scientists... I'm still holding out that this will change someday though. :)