After 20 years, Karen Lopez had hoped things would have changed.
Lopez, a Toronto-based IT consultant, still sees women and minorities occupying a relatively small portion of IT jobs.
“I would have expected that there would be more diversity viewpoints,” Lopez said. “Certainly I’ve worked with quite a diverse workforce but I would say that it’s not as common.”
Coupled with the current economic downturn and an apparent decline of enrolment in post-secondary IT programs, things don’t appear to be changing any time soon.
Lopez’ thinking falls in line with the Ottawa-based Software Human Resource Council’s (SHRC) recent Labour Force Survey 2000-2002. The report discovered IT jobs are still predominately staffed by male workers – fewer than one-quarter of workers are female.
Prepared for SHRC and Human Resources Development Canada (HRDC) by economist William G. Wolfson, the sector council’s report, Analysis of Labour Force Data for the Information Technology Occupations, looks at trends in the Canadian IT labour market.
It describes IT trends including the size of the labour force and the unemployment rate for the entire IT workforce, comprised of 17 occupations, and for each of five IT occupational groups (managers, engineers, analysts, programmers and technicians).
According to Lee Jacobs, SHRC Labour Market Studies researcher, the study is more of a statistical tool rather than a sociological one.
Specifically, Canada’s IT workforce, according to SHRC, is populated mostly with younger, college-educated males. Almost three-quarters of all IT workers are concentrated within Ontario and Quebec. Ontario alone is home to more than half of the total workforce.
IT is a young occupation, the report found, with 44 per cent of workers under 35 years of age. An additional 36 per cent of workers are in the 35 to 44 age group, with just 20 per cent in the 45 plus category.
While it depends on the industry, Lopez said in her experience, the bleeding-edge professions tend to draw younger workers. “I find that the more technology-related the company is, the younger the workforce,” Lopez noted.
Males have even greater dominance in engineering jobs, according to SHRC, where they comprise almost 90 per cent of the workforce, and it noted that females have above average representation in the analyst and technician fields.
Lopez has noticed a decline of females, particularly in her field of data analysis. “It has been changing and I would expect it to change, I’m just not happy with the way it’s been changing,” Lopez said.
Jacobs concedes that the current workforce makeup has apparently remained static. “Anecdotally, we’ve known that it’s been the same for some time. There are clearly issues that we want to look at and the national survey should cover that,” Jacobs said. The SHRC report doesn’t delve into specifics surrounding age, gender or ethnic diversity – Jacobs said factors such as these will be addressed in a national study due to be completed by the end of the year.
Adds Lopez, “I am a strong believer that technology should be designed in a way that has diverse viewpoints because of the risk we have that it might only try to solve the problems of a majority viewpoint.”
In all, the study reveals that Canada’s IT labour force climbed from about 410,000 workers at the beginning of 2000 through to mid-2001 when it exceeded 440,000 workers. From mid-2001 onwards the workforce was in flux, dropping back to year 2000 levels by the end of that year.
As of last summer, the number jumped to 420,000 workers. The unemployment rate for all 17 IT occupations has ranged from a low of two per cent late in 2000 to more than five per cent by mid-summer 2002, after dipping to below four per cent in the spring of 2002, the report found.