As one of the fastest growing industries in the United States, information technology (IT) is part of the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) sector that is driving economic growth (Csorny 2013). Information technology skills are an important component of the skills required in many growing middle-skill occupations; middle-skill jobs in IT have the geographic advantage of being more evenly spread throughout the country than jobs in sectors such as manufacturing (Rothwell 2013). Middle-skill jobs with the highest growth rates require the use of digital skills in one way or another (Burning Glass Technologies, 2015) and have higher and more persistent vacancy rates (Rothwell 2013). Certificates and degrees related to IT skills have higher median earnings than others (Carnevale et al 2014). While many information technology related jobs require bachelor’s degrees- or increasingly employ workers who have at least a four-year college degree- the field includes some growing occupations that are open to people with an associate degree. Indeed, while computing and IT jobs at the beginning of the computing revolution were mainly higher skilled occupations requiring a four-year college degree, as computing and information technology have become more common place in the economy, they have led to the rise of complementary middle-skill jobs, such as computer user support specialists, which does not require a four-year college degree (Chapple 2005).
Figure 3.1.Women are a Minority of Workers in Growing Middle-skill IT Jobs
Women’s Share of Employment in Good Middle-skill IT Occupations
Note: For definition of good middle-skill jobs see Appendix A.
Source: IWPR calculation based on IWPR O*Net database (see Appendix A).
Table 3.1 shows the middle-skill occupations in IT services with the highest projected job openings. According to the Occupational Information Network (O*Net), these jobs typically only require long term on-the-job training, vocational certificate or two-year Associates’ Degree (although in practice a significant number of workers in these jobs do have bachelor’s degrees; Table 3.1). Women are the minority of workers employed in each of these occupations, although their under-representation is not as stark as in the manufacturing occupations reviewed above.
None of these occupations are strictly ‘nontraditional’ for women (that is women are at least 25 percent of workers in each of the occupations). Table 3.1 also shows female-dominated occupations that are most similar to the attributes of these target occupations.
Table 3.1 High Job Opening Target Middle-skill Information technology Occupations and Potential On-Ramp Occupations Based on O*Net Characteristics
Notes: .1 29 percent of respondents to O*Net incumbent survey for occupation had a BA degree. 2.47 percent of respondents to O*Net incumbent survey for occupation had a BA degree. 3.43 percent of respondents to O*Net survey for occupation had a BA degree. 5 26 percent of respondents to O*Net incumbent survey had a BA degree. 6 Insignificant percent of respondents to O*Net incumbent survey had BA degree. Projected job openings from employment growth and employee turnover; full-time year-round earnings and full-time year-round workers in occupation.
Source: U.S. Department of Labor “O*Net online” and U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics and U.S. Census Bureau.
Yet, rather than a traditional on-ramp occupation that is similar, but lower skilled (and lower paid), these occupations require considerably higher investments in education to get to the same or lower earnings. Librarians provide a particularly striking example. Close to nine in ten librarians have a master’s degree; they earn marginally less than computer user support specialists, seven in ten of who have an associate degree or less. Librarians are required to have knowledge of computers and electronics, they need to be able to use a variety of software programs, and need to be able to communicate with the public, just as computer user support specialists. The comparison of librarians and computer user support staff is of particular relevance to someone still considering their careers. A library assistant, for example, a more junior occupation that shares many attributes of computer user support tasks, with median annual earnings of $29,026, may follow a traditional pathway of six years of college to become a librarian. Instead she can opt to build on her experience by pursuing an associate degree to become computer user support specialist, which requires about half of the years in college and promises annual earnings that are as high if not higher than librarians.
The lower returns to formal education in fields which a majority female are also illustrated by ‘statistical assistants’ and ‘compensation, benefits, and job analysis specialists’, both occupations which require a bachelor’s degree, but have lower median earnings than ‘web developers,’ where an associate degree is the standard requirement and in which fewer than half of workers have bachelor’s degrees, according to O*Net’s database (Table 4.1).
While men and women do not differ significantly in ability in mathematics and science, they do differ in perceived skills and confidence, and in opportunities to develop their skills and their confidence
Women’s underrepresentation in information technology, and other STEM fields, has been on the policy agenda for a considerable time. While men and women do not differ significantly in ability in mathematics and science, they do differ in perceived skills and confidence, and in opportunities to develop their skills and their confidence; Hill, Corbett, and Rose (2010) provide a comprehensive review of research on the factors that lead to women’s and girls’ underrepresentation in computing and other STEM fields. Policy efforts and research in information technology fields have typically focused on schools and colleges, highlighting how changed teaching styles and resource allocation can increase girls’ interest and success in STEM fields. Yet, although women are less likely than men to have prerequisite IT skills, there are many women who do, or who have skills and work experience in similar fields which provide a stepping stone to full careers in the sector. Companies can better ensure that women know about these opportunities, and that the working environment doesn’t isolate women but rather allows them to prosper in the field.
Attracting women to IT
A 2011 Department of Commerce report cited that women who work in STEM fields on average earn 33 percent more than women in other fields (U.S. Department of Commerce, 2011). Additionally, women working in STEM jobs face a lower gender wage gap than women working in many other fields. Advancing women in IT positions serves as a crucial pathway into high-paying and fast-growing jobs. Women are proportionately less likely to have jobs in computing than they were twenty years ago (AAUW, 2015). Women are less likely than men to work in the IT industry, and within the IT industry, they are less likely to work in IT specific positions. For example, at Google, women make up 30 percent of the company’s total workforce, and only 18 percent of tech-related positions (Google, 2015). These numbers illustrate a challenge in the IT field with attracting new and retaining existing women workers. Encouraging and retaining women into IT positions requires a combination of supportive academic environments for young women and girls, and workplaces that encourage and promote the advancement of female employees.
Organizations such as the National Girls Collaborative Project and Million Women Mentors (MWM) are working to create a more supportive and encouraging environment in schools, colleges, and universities MWM teams to increase the number of women in the pipeline for STEM jobs. The National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT), a non-profit organization initiated in 2014 by the National Science Foundation, convenes a coalition of over 575 corporations, academic institutions, small businesses, and non-profits to increase the presence and retention of women in computing positions. The organization works with its partners to coordinate a national pipeline for women in computing, change workplace conditions to challenge the stereotype that computer science or IT is male-dominated profession, and create resources, tool-kits, and best practices for members and employers in the network (NCWIT).
As IT occupations developed and grew with the rapid development of the industry from the 1990s onwards, IT qualifications have become more formalized and employers are more likely to look for bachelor’s degrees when hiring IT staff. Yet, given the demand for workers with IT related skills, there continue to be opportunities for workers to move into lower level positions, as attested by successful training programs focused on creating pathways for workers with less formal qualifications to occupations such as computer support specialists (see for example, Chapple and Zook, 2002).
Opportunities are also provided through new apprenticeships in the IT field. LaunchCode, a non-profit in Saint Louis, has created pathways into IT jobs for people who are unemployed or seeking to move into this higher paid field of work. LaunchCode provides access to IT specific on-line training programs and then arranges job placements- or apprenticeships- with companies to provide an opportunity for the trainees to show their expertise. The Washington State Department of Labor and Industries is receiving a grant through the U.S. Department of Labor’s Apprenticeship Initiative to create an information technology apprenticeship program in partnership with Washington Technology Industry Association (WTIA), Microsoft, AT&T, Impinj, F5, and Accenture. The apprenticeship program will target recruiting women, people of color, and transitioning military members into more than 600 IT apprenticeships. The planned program of work includes the development of a new training curriculum that speeds the time to acquire IT skills (U.S. Department of Labor 2015b). Philadelphia Works received a grant to expand an existing computer support Specialist/IT apprenticeship, and to focus its activities on youth and women. Philadelphia Works received $2.9 million to help expand an existing Computer Support Specialist/IT apprenticeship and focus on recruitment of youth and women in the Pennsylvania area (U.S. Department of Labor 2015b).