Co-chair, Women in Technology, CATA

ComputerWorld Canada’s 2008 survey salary found that the Canadian IT industry is still chock-a-block with menfolk, with female IT staffers making up a small percentage of the enterprise IT population.

The survey polled 3,615 full-time IT professionals from across the country, only 15.37 per cent of which were women. “It’s catastrophic,” said CATA Women in Technology co-chair Cindy Gordon. “We’ve been tracking this over the last three years and have seen a very aggressive decline. It’s impacting Canada’s competitiveness as a nation.” She said that women have been a definite part of the ICT enrollment drop-off , citing the fact that the University of Ottawa has seen a 70 per cent drop in IT enrollment over the last while.

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CIPS Women in IT spokesperson Pat Gaudet —who has been in the IT industry for decades—said that the ranks of women in IT have been swelling over the years, but have recently dwindled somewhat. “They’ve advanced and made their presence known,” she said. “However, when I look around at a lot of meetings, there seems to be less women in general than there used to be.” But the women surveyed had favourable opinions of their chosen industry—90 per cent of them would recommend it as a career choice. Gaudet said that women in IT tend to enjoy their jobs due to the variety offered by the profession. Said Gaudet: “The women I know really like the challenges, and the learning opportunities never end. There’s a great potential for different kinds of jobs.”

Another bonus is the flexibility that some technology companies offer their employees, said Sandra Levoy, a regional vice-president with IT staffing and research firm Robert Half International. “They can make good money while controlling their destiny,” she said. “There can be flexibility, the option for contract work, and the opportunity to work from home.”

But, Lavoy pointed out, she definitely sees it as a male-dominated field. And, according to the survey, women are indeed still lagging behind men when it comes to C-level positions in IT, which found that 10.22 per cent of the women were in executive positions, compared to 13.86 per cent of the male respondents. (Female middle managers were in fuller force than men, with 28.06 per cent of them in management positions versus the 25.35 per cent of men who work in middle management.)

If a job is too narrow, without multitasking, or the ability to move into a different area, they will leave.Cindy Gordon>Text

“We see a lot of women opting out before they reach that level,” according to Gordon. “They have trouble attracting, yes, and those who are doing it do enjoy it, but they often opt out before building that depth.” This is attributed to a lack of sufficient mentoring, along with some IT positions that don’t mesh with some women’s ways of working.

The variety that Gaudet said women enjoy in the IT sector can sometimes be missing, which will leads to the exodus of upper-management women. Said Gordon: “Women need functional growth roles with the opportunity for breadth and enrichment, and if a job is too narrow, without multitasking, or the ability to move into a different area, they will leave.”

Another strike against female exec potentials is the challenge of juggling a family and a career, according to both Gaudet and Gordon, who said that IT companies need better work/life balance policies to work with women instead of against them. Gaudet has seen more women IT staffers starting independent consultancies, where they can run the show.

Gordon said, “I don’t think there’s going to be a happy ending for a while!”

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