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More women in the channel?

With high school graduations wrapping up and the focus on careers ahead, the hope that more women will join the ranks of IT technology professionals and, for some, find a place in the IT channel is still tepid, at best.

Not withstanding a recent Forbes magazine article, “The Most Powerful Women in Tech 2014” — which listed familiar names such as Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook; Virginia Rometty, chairman, president and CEO of IBM; Meg Whitman, CEO of Hewlett-Packard; Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo; Sara Cats, co-president and chief financial officer of Oracle; and Ursula Burns, CEO of Xerox — the gap between the number of women and number of men earning bachelor degrees in computer science grew between 2002 and 2012. According to the National Science Foundation, the number of women earning those degrees in 2002, 13,690, dropped to 8,730 in 2012, whereas the number of men earning those degrees in 2002, 36,016, rose in 2012 to 39,230. And, women leave technology companies at twice the rate of men.

And, let’s not forget that we’re talking about the small percentage of women who swam against the tide in grade school to pursue science and technology studies in college.

If we look at why women leave their tech jobs, it may better help us understand why the field isn’t attractive for them in the first place.

According to the Anita Borg Institute, respondents to a study of more than 1,000 women who worked in engineering and then left the field, mostly to other careers, cited the following reasons for leaving their engineering jobs: 30%, working conditions (no advancement, too many hours, low salary); 27%, work/life integration (wanted more time with family, conflict with family or too much travel); 22%, didn’t like work (lost interest or didn’t like daily tasks); and 17%, organizational climate (didn’t like the culture, boss or co-workers).

The Anita Borg Institute offers a number of recommendations and best practices to retain women in technology, focusing on leadership and accountability, a corporate culture built for innovation, support networks and communities, and organizational infrastructure and policies.

Whether the job opportunities are plentiful this year or next, or not, the bigger picture is that the tech industry needs smart and creative professionals to innovate and lead the industry. And, as a very savvy woman in IT channel once said to me during an interview years ago regarding the lack of women in the industry, “Why draw on only half the deck when you could be working with the whole thing?” Why, indeed.

There are many private and public initiatives promoting women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and many begin in grade school. Closer to home in the IT channel, CompTIA in April unveiled its DREAM IT platform to empower girls and women to pursue degrees and careers in technology, through the CompTIA Advancing Women in IT Community.

The goal of DREAM IT is to encourage IT industry leaders to reach 10,000 middle school and high school girls by year-end via a 45-minute assembly-type presentation that dispels myths about working in IT and exposes the slew of compelling opportunities in the technology ecosystem.

“Our schools aren’t doing a good job of it,” said Nancy Hammervik, senior vice president of industry relations at CompTIA.

Many IT vendors are active in STEM initiatives or helping to promote women in IT. For instance, Cisco, Citrix, Dell, Google, Intel, Microsoft, Oracle, Symantec and VMware, to name a handful.

As Dell channel chief Cheryl Cook said on the topic of diversity and the importance of women in the business: “I think it’s good for business and for our customers. Diversity enriches our creativity, innovation, experiences and relevance.”

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