Saturday, June 25, 2005

Who Are We, Anyway?

Did anyone else see this? Thursday, was reporting that women and minorities are underrepresented in the U.S. technology industry. I'm not so sure that part was news. However, the article did contain some fascinating items.

This part was incredibly disturbing to me:

Women made up 32 percent of the tech work force in 2004, a drop from 41 percent at its peak in 1996. That's largely because of the shrinking number of administrative jobs in the tech industry, the Arlington, Virginia-based Information Technology Association of America said. [Boldface added.]
Let me be perfectly clear on this: Are we saying that women in tech jobs aren't really technical, they're administrative? So we have fewer women in IT because we've fired all the secretaries? Am I overreacting? 'Cause my pointy stiletto shoes are gettin' all fidgety over here.

Another bizarre observation by this group: "white" was one of the underrepresented racial groups cited. OK, so if Blacks, Hispanics, and Caucasians are all minorities in IT... who's left? Well.. the study mentions that Asians are overrepresented by a couple hundred percent. OK, so everybody trade in your stereotype of the round, bearded European-looking IT guy. I'm watching you!

But do we even care who does the job, as long as somebody does it? I'm kind of torn on this one. I do not want anybody competent shut out because of superficial physical characteristics. And I certainly don't want anybody incompetent running my servers and having access to my data. But beyond that, I don't much notice the demographics.

I'm pretty sure that people from India are counted under "Asian," but where does "middle eastern" fit into this survey? No, I'm not being paranoid. I'm just wondering, 'cause when I was in college, our engineering department (huge) was full of Saudi students. (Male, of course. Duh.) I imagine plenty of them are employed in this country now. But I never see that demographic listed on the questionnaires. If they're also "Asian," I can better understand the disparity.

Anybody know the answers?


Jack said...

Gender and race representations was a huge issue when I was taking all the classes required for teacher certification. The opinion I came out of it with is that having a gender or race represented disproportionately to its population is not so much a problem as it is indicative of other problems. Most of those other problems are economic/opportunity related. Some of them are prejudiced based. Hiring practices which strive for a proportional representation (e.g. "quotas" or something like them, whether voluntary or regulatory) can help overcome the latter. They can also be overemphasized, become viewed as a fix all, and lead us to neglect addressing the former.

Just an anecdotal observation: when I began work in the IT department of a midwestern regional P&C insurance company back in 1997, about 1/3 of the department was female. It still is. We're a growing company. Both the number of programmers and the number of administrators has increased roughly proportionally. Also, there are only four non-caucasian employees, all Asian: three Hmong and one Chinese. And relatively few of us are bearded.

It may be worth noting that the IT job market changed significantly post 1/1/2000. When I was hired they were basically grabbing warm bodies and training us. It's a bit tighter now that we've figured out the world didn't end at Y2K. We generally only hire individuals with 4-year IT related degrees.

Scone said...

Ha ha! I knew this would bring you out, Jack. :)

That's an interesting point about the Y2K boom. As I recall, 1996 (which they listed as the peak of women's employment in IT) was part of that frenzy. Still, you don't see even 32 percent females at tech conferences these days. My percentage count of women at the last tech conference I went to was in the teens. That offers a whole other batch of gender comparisons and stereotypes. Or maybe they all have my boss.

We also found this article interesting at our house. Partly depressing, partly comforting.

Jack said...

Well yeah . . . combine politics with my profession and how can I not comment? "Um, a little self restraint, maybe?" Hah! Right.

That other CNN article is interesting. I haven't noticed it so pronounced at the company I work for . . . but I suppose I eventually should learn something about insurance, eh? I've actually told telling myself many times that I'm going to bone up on my calc and stats and re-take those actuarial exams I failed 8 years ago or so, but geez . . . math is hard.