Opinion Very best places to work in IT

A couple of years ago, I wrote an editorial in which I recounted a story about an incident that left an impression on me as a youth and that I still think about 40 years later. Titled “Leaving a Mark,” the editorial used the incident – a case in which my seventh grade English teacher embarrassed me in front of the class as punishment for an infraction that I didn’t actually commit – to illustrate how deeply an unjust act can affect a person.

The context was a discussion of women in IT, and the injustice many of them endure when they receive salaries that are lower than those of their male counterparts. I’ve written on a number of occasions about how that disparity is contributing to the declining percentage of women in the IT workforce, and about how that decline is unhealthy for the IT profession.

I grew up in Fairfax County, Va., and my K-12 experience – including that seventh grade English class – took place within the Fairfax County Public Schools system. So it was with a certain amount of hometown pride that I learned that FCPS ranked No.10 on Computerworld’s 2007 list of Best Places to Work in IT. I was also pleased to see that among organizations with 10,000 or more U.S. employees, it ranked No. 6.

What was especially gratifying, however, was finding that FCPS ranked No. 5 on the list of best places for diversity – a ranking based on the percentage of women and minorities in staff and managerial positions. It’s hard to miss the significance of that when you read Julia King’s profile of Cathy Sels, the school system’s director of technology operations, in the “Prized Employees” section of our Best Places coverage.

According to the CIO at FCPS, Sels “has consistently proven herself as an IT leader.” And that CIO is in an excellent position to make that assessment. She’s Maribeth Luftglass, a member of the 2007 class of Computerworld Premier 100 IT Leaders.

It’s also worth noting that 34 per cent of the school system’s 449 IT employees are women. If you look beyond FCPS, you’ll find that that percentage is consistent with the 33 per cent average among the 100 companies on this year’s Best Places list, and that at two of the top three employers, the proportion rises to over 40 percent. Those are telling numbers when you consider that, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labour Statistics, women constituted 26.2 per cent of the IT workforce in 2006. It’s almost certainly even lower now; the decline in that percentage over the past decade, and projections for a continuing drop in the years ahead, have been well documented.

Looking further into the diversity statistics, moreover, you’ll find that the top two organizations on the list of best places for diversity, the University of Miami and The Capital Group, rank No. 2 and No. 4, respectively, on this year’s Best Places to Work list.

So, what should we make of all this? Do these organizations attract and retain greater numbers of women and minorities by virtue of their overall appeal, or is the fact that they employ greater numbers of women and minorities core to what makes them the best places to work?

It’s a chicken-or-egg question that doesn’t lend itself to a dispassionate, scientific argument. But some things you just know, just as most of us knew, even as children, that injustice deflates the human spirit. As most of us know by now, diversity is one of those things that elevates that spirit. And it’s where that elevation exists that you’ll find the very best places to work.

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