Halloween is nigh! I really like Halloween. It’s one of my more enjoyable holidays, especially since I’m a four-time winner of TestOut’s Halloween Costume Contest. (I’m entering again this year and, as always, I like my chances.)
This is a time for Americans of all backgrounds, interests, and ages to celebrate by putting on a costume, acting silly and grabbing lots of goodies (because hey, it’s for the kids). According to statistics from the National Retail Federation, more than 179 million of us will be celebrating Halloween this year, with seven out of 10 consumers planning to hand out candy. Total spending for the holiday is expected to reach a staggering $9.1 billion! A typical consumer will spend a bit more than $86 for decorations, and $25 for candy — it’s no wonder this is a dentist’s favorite holiday.
The most expensive aspect of the day is costumes: Men who dress up spend an average of $96 for their ensembles while women drop a modest $77 for their wardrobes. The top five costumes for adults are a witch, a Batman character, animal, Marvel superhero and vampire. Children’s top five choices are superhero, Batman character/princess (tied), animal, Spider-Man, and a Star Wars character. Even a great many non-humans get in on the night, with 16 percent of us dressing our pets as pumpkins, hot dogs, pirates, bumblebees and even devils.
Another widespread aspect of All Hallows Eve is the Spook House where we all plunk down a few bucks to be momentarily frightened by costumed actors. Regardless of what your favorite aspect of the day is, none of us are really scared and Halloween is just a fun time for all.
Halloween is nothing to be scared about, but there is one thing that does alarm me: the underrepresentation of women in IT. In the U.S. women make up 56 percent of the professional workforce, yet hold only 25 percent of IT jobs.
When you think about it, these numbers are surprising because the salaries for working in IT are excellent. Nationally, the average annual salary for an IT job is $62,500, compared to the average annual salary for U.S. workers of $50,500. And women working in IT earn salaries 33 percent greater than women in more traditional jobs like education and health. The difference in salaries alone should make an IT career enticing to women.
So why aren’t more women choosing an IT career? While there are as many opinions as people to give them, most experts tend to agree on three big reasons for the dearth of female IT professionals:
Gender stereotypes — The age-old notion that boys are naturally better at science and math and therefore girls shy away. There’s also the still simmering, if rarely discussed (and appallingly misguided) notion that men are just generally more capable than women … at everything.
Lack of talent pool — The fact that fewer girls study STEM subjects, results in a smaller gender talent pool from which to hire.
Bias in culture of IT — Because people tend to recruit and hire those who are culturally like themselves in interests, experiences, and tastes, the overwhelming representation of males in IT naturally results in recruiting and hiring still more males.
Regardless of the reasons for the past and present underrepresentation, like in any field, women do have something to contribute. Fortunately, there are some positive changes taking effect in education that will result in more female IT professionals. Women are graduating from college in higher numbers than men, we now hold more bachelor’s and graduate degrees than men, and currently 20 percent of all engineering students in the U.S. are women. STEM programs in elementary and secondary education programs are increasingly enrolling more girls.
There are also some terrific private and corporate initiatives working to bring more females into IT. Girls Who Code (GWC), a nonprofit whose goal is to “close the gender gap in technology, runs programs during the academic year teaching high school girls computing skills like programming, robotics, and web design. Established in 2012 with just 20 girls in New York City, GWC now reaches 40,000 girls in 150 clubs across the country.
Another strong effort comes from Dream IT, a program offered through CompTIA’s Advancing Women in Technology community. Dream IT has already reached more than 10,000 people in the U.S., the U.K., Australia and New Zealand with the message that “technology is a great place for women and girls.”
As a TestOut sales manager, I have a fondness for one dedicated and super-motivated group of IT professionals — the IT instructors in middle schools and high schools around the country. I’ve worked closely with them to bring the best in IT training to their students. I admire these instructors for the passion they bring to their classrooms. Working long hours, against tough odds, they make a lifelong difference in the lives of all their students. I especially enjoy hearing how, every year, more girls are enrolling in these IT courses and completing certifications.
IT is a rapidly evolving field with a never-ending need for skilled professionals. As more girls and women enter, they will contribute their own unique ideas and visions to the conversation. Who knows how many Ginni Romettys and Cher Wangs are presently sitting in classrooms diligently preparing for their opportunities to contribute to IT on a massive scale.
For any girls or women considering IT training, I say, there’s no trick to getting started, and there are plenty of treats for those willing to work hard.
About the Author — Wendy Edwards started out as a Sales Assistant with TestOut Corporation more than seven years ago. Two years ago, her excellent customer service earned her a spot on the coveted K-12 Accounts Sales Team. While raising 3 children, Wendy received a bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education from Brigham Young University. Her passion is running — anywhere from 5Ks to marathons, but her favorite is the relay race. She is also an awe-inspiring three-time winner of TestOut’s Halloween Costume Contest. (Overall, Funniest, and Scariest)