Editorial: Why Education & The Labor Market Are Failing Women in I.T

High Demand, Low Production

The effects of rapid technological innovation on Society have been diverse. On one hand we’ve achieved levels of communication and knowledge sharing unforeseeable twenty or even ten years ago. The widespread penetration of High Speed Internet, Social Media and Mobile platforms have created a more interconnected Society with the ability to access knowledge and share expertise at breakneck speeds. Technology as a whole has become smaller, personal and more fully integrated in both our professional and personal lives.

On the other hand diversity, particularly Gender, continuous to be a challenge. Right now there is a serious deficit of female representation in IT at every organizational level. You only have to look at the stats of some of the biggest tech organizations in the world to understand what I mean: Out of Google and Apple’s total workforce only 30% are female. Facebook scrapes by with a mere 31% while Yahoo fares a little better at 37%. These numbers are atrocious but do these companies have themselves solely to blame? This problem of Female under-representation in IT is many faceted, with roots that go deep into both the Labor and Education sectors. The sheer level of changes created by technological advancement has pretty much stunned the Labor sector, leaving them stumbling and desperate for women and men with the right skill sets.

Problem is: The current Labor market, particularly in IT, doesn’t address in any significant way the inefficiencies in the production of students with the necessary skills.

There Are No ‘Good Old Days’

There used to be a time when specialization and hard skills were the currency of employment in any sector. If you studied hard and got a degree you’d be almost certain of a job for a lifetime. That’s obviously now no longer the case, especially in the field of IT. Even a cursory examination of the IT job market reveals that despite the importance of hard skills soft skills are the highest in demand. Communication, Decision Making, Time Management and Leadership skills (to name just a few) are what most employees currently value and what they feel students produced via traditional Educational routes (University, College etc) seriously lack.

The Education sector for the most part remains relatively similar to the one we all experienced ten/twenty years ago. Universities are seemingly entrenched in their outdated model of prioritizing hard skills in order to produce students for an Labour market that largely no longer needs only hard skills. The I.T market is looking for the skill sets of consultants and entrepreneurs, people with experience in home businesses and basement coding, and what they are largely getting from institutions are students with a lot of theory and almost zero soft skills.

Hard Skills by their very nature are Rule-based, being Replicable, Predictable and Tangible. Whether it’s a course in Economics or Computer Science the knowledge that is taught is bound in these principles. Soft Skills are Experience-Based, being situational, non-technical and by their very nature intangible. It’s easy to see why the Education sector has for the longest time focused primarily on the transmission of hard skill education to students.

What Does This Have To Do With Gender Diversity?

Women are more gifted  when it comes to soft skills. A multitude of studies, particularly this one, have proven women bring a superior social sensitivity in reading non-verbal clues and other people’s emotions, possessing a greater fairness in turn taking.

Translation? Women have an advantage in all the soft skills that rely upon relational and emotional intelligence. You know – the ones the I.T sector is desperate for.

This study (and many others like it) have proven the power of what is being defined as ‘Collective Intelligence’ in the organizational and financial success of companies. The McKinsey Global Survey in 2010 found 72% of executives believed there was a direct connection between financial success and a company’s gender diversity. The biggest component of that belief lies in the critical role women (with their natural soft skill set advantages) have in helping groups of people perform as whole creatively better then than they would individually. Complex issues require solutions that only groups of people working together can create.

How Do We Fix this?

Part of the solution lies in changing the image of IT to one that is a more approachable to women. It’s currently dominated by gender and culture stereotypes that are often off-putting to women, particularly young girls as they begin their career search. Women like Sheryl Sandberg, Marissa Mayer and Sue Gardner have had a significant impact in changing the perception of IT as ‘Men Only’ but more needs to be done, part curly at the youth level. We need the Education and Labor sectors to strongly avoid making the ‘pink and shrink’ marketing mistakes of the last decade and start emphasizing the ‘cool’ factor. Young girls today have embraced social media and mobile technologies in the private lives so it stands to reason that they may serve as natural avenues for recruitment.

With respect to the education of soft skills the Education and Labor Sectors must come to terms with the reality that the traditional model of emphasizing hard skills only is largely failing our youth. New models and better technology is needed if both women and men are going to have a better chance for future employment. One important solution is the use of Gamification platforms (like IamProgrez’s Talent Quest) in aiding students in the discovery and education of their soft skill capabilities. Serious Games like Talent Quest are the perfect tools through which students face challenges, connect with vocational soft skill training and offer practical challenges that result in higher soft skills efficiency.

The bottom line is we need more women in IT: It’s not just the right thing to do it’s also a necessary one. The future is depending increasingly on complex group problem solving that requires women with the soft skills necessary to make it happen. In order to make that happen we all have to work hard in transforming Education, Labour and the very image of IT itself into effective vehicles for the training and employment of Women everywhere.

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