Study: Men become interested in tech careers earlier than women

Men express their interest in tech careers sooner than women, and are more likely to remain in the field for the long haul, according to a new report.

Global professional recruitment firm and IT outsourcing service provider Harvey Nash Inc. surveyed 658 men and women in tech and found that 46% of male respondents became interested in a tech career by the the time they were in high school or college — compared to 41% of women during that time period, according to the 2017 Harvey Nash Women in Technology report.

The divide widens the earlier you go: 20% of men surveyed said they were interested in tech in elementary and middle school, more than double the number of women who were, or only 9%.

More men said they got interested in the world of IT through a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) track, with nearly three times as many men as women studying engineering before getting a career in IT, according to the findings, which were produced in partnership with ARA, which Harvey Nash sponsors.

“The visibility and value of a STEM education has skyrocketed in the last decade, but we’re not yet seeing the full impact translate to the IT workplace,” Bob Miano, Harvey Nash USA President and CEO, said in a statement.

“School and home life can spark the first interest for technology, but individuals as well as companies need to take action throughout the lifecycle of IT careers to keep that enthusiasm alive… Increasing and keeping women in IT is critical to meet the demand for tech talent in the midst of a permanent IT labor shortage,” he said.

The challenges of working in IT

Regardless of when men or women enter the tech force, the findings show that employees struggle to feel appreciated at IT jobs regardless of their gender — 18% of men and 17% of women who quit their last job in tech did so partially “to seek better balance.”

Thirty-four percent of those surveyed agreed that “it’s harder to balance life pressures with a technology career versus another career choice,” 38% thought the hours are too long, and 34% said there isn’t enough “flexibility.”

Still, the pressures continue to stack up for women in tech, as 30% of women say that “an unwelcoming environment to women and minorities is one of the greatest challenges” in their field, compared to just 13% of men.

Twenty-six percent of women said they worry they don’t have enough confidence — more than double the 12% of men who think similarly.

In addition, 43% of women said they faced a “lack of advancement opportunities,” compared to just 26% of men, the study found.

But there are ways to boost morale and representation of women in the tech industry.

One solution lies in mentorship

The majority of participants (69%) said “encouraging” women to go after tech careers in high school or college is the top solution to boosting the number of women in tech.

But introducing mentorship programs to preserve the number of women who have already made their way into the industry, and keeping them moving up the ladder also emerged as one of the primary ways to improve tech overall, the study found.

While 57% of women respondents who’ve had a mentor say having one was a help to their career, only 22% of all organizations and 28% large enterprise firms (with more than 1,000 workers) have “formal programs in place to promote women in technology.”

Anna A. Frazzetto, Chief Digital Technology Officer & SVP, Harvey Nash, said that employees should advocate for themselves — even if their companies aren’t willing or able to meet them halfway.

“Ask for what you want, but also don’t be afraid to ask for help … If you can’t find the support you need at your own company, an engaged mentor or coach can provide a gut check to help you tackle skill gaps and hurdles,” Frazzetto said, adding that the responsibility for mentoring employees should ideally fall to the company.