Unemployment Gap Widens for IT Women

IT unemployment pales in comparison with the national unemployment rate — so long as you’re not a woman.

In May, for example, the unemployment rate for women in computer and mathematical occupations stood at 6.8 percent, whereas men faced a mere 2.3 percent unemployment rate, according to figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

A one-month blip you may ask? Apparently not. Last year’s figures were only mildly better. Here’s a look at computer and mathematical unemployment rates going back to 2007 :

Unemployment Rate

What Gives?

It’s a toughie. The Bureau of Labor Statistics offered a just the facts, ma’am response to the unemployment rate. And economists and IT women’s groups also noted it was a tough call as to why the gap between women and men would be so large.

Nonetheless, they offered up some interesting perspectives.

“We do know from research and from women’s personal experiences that they are sometimes directed into, or decide, to take on project management or similar kinds of roles and that in some companies these roles are less valued and can be among the first to be laid off,” says Catherine Ashcraft, a senior research scientist with the National Center for Women & IT at the University of Colorado.

She further added: “I’ve heard both women and corporate executives talk about how this trend has unwittingly resulted in more women being laid off in recent economic times. It’s not that anyone intends for this to happen but it becomes a systemic pattern that company leaders need to be aware of in order to make sure that they don’t unwittingly diminish the creative and innovative potential of a diverse workforce.”

Bodhi Ganguli, an economist with Moody’s Analytics, offered up another possible explanation for the gap in IT unemployment between the sexes.

“Layoffs in technology companies have been in areas where more women are traditionally employed – helpdesk support, administrative functions, certain areas of programming, middle management and project management,” Ganguli says.

Devil is in the Detail

Here’s some good details from the Bureau of Labor Statistics on how the unemployment figures are calculated:

  • The Government conducts a monthly sample survey called the Current Population Survey (CPS) to measure the extent of unemployment in the country.
  • There are about 60,000 households in the sample for this survey. This translates into approximately 110,000 individuals, a large sample compared to public opinion surveys, which usually covers fewer than 2,000 people.
  • Every month, one-fourth of the households in the sample are changed, so that no household is interviewed more than 4 consecutive months. After a household is interviewed for 4 consecutive months, it leaves the sample for 8 months, and then is again interviewed for the same 4 calendar months a year later, before leaving the sample for good.
  • This procedure results in approximately 75 percent of the sample remaining the same from month to month and 50 percent from year to year.

Jim Walker, an economist with the bureau’s Division of Labor Statistics, says in an email interview:

Typically the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) would not publish an unemployment rate for an occupation if the labor force was less than 75,000 in monthly data. In the case of computer and mathematical occupations in May 2012 the denominator (labor force) of the unemployment rate calculation is sufficient for both men and women. However, it is important to remember that there were only about 36 unemployed women included in the survey and 33 men. The rule of thumb is that 1 person in the survey represents about 2,000 people in the tabulated numbers. (Men unemployed 65,000/2,000=33, Women unemployed 72,000/2,000=36)

While the raw number of unemployed computer and mathematical women and men are roughly the same, the percentage of women unemployed may loom larger because the potential size of IT women in the survey pool may be smaller.

“Because there are significantly fewer women in technology than men, the percentages for women can also fluctuate more,” Ashcraft surmised.

Advice for the Bearer of Pink Slips

The next time your IT company is gearing up for another round of pink slips, they may want to take Ashcraft’s advice to heart:

“Anyone in a position to influence these kinds of decisions should keep track of patterns in workforce reduction and be aware of any potential patterns that tend to disproportionately affect women or other groups of people,” she says. “This means not waiting for it to be brought to their attention but rather diligently looking to see if these patterns are occurring.”

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26 Responses to “Unemployment Gap Widens for IT Women”

  1. Just the facts

    “Anyone in a position to influence these kinds of decisions should keep track of patterns in workforce reduction and be aware of any potential patterns that tend to disproportionately affect women or other groups of people,”

    In IT that means US citizens as they are being displaced by H-1b and L1 outsourcing visas. And yes, many highly skilled women have been displaced by the corrupt H-1b and L1 government sponsored outsourcing programs.

    • Casdfasdf, I have to admit I think your comment is simplistic. You make it sound like the visa issue is the sole reason for the gender gap in IT, and I just don’t think that’s true. But rather than debate it here, there’s a thread about it goings on here:


      Can I suggest you repost your comment there? I may not agree with you, but I do agree it’s an interesting point that’s we should explore.



  2. Proud Paulbot

    I don’t think the fact that I cannot use my Math/CIS degree has anything to do with me being female. I think it has to do with the fact that the economy crashed while I was in university, destroying jobs across the board, and in particular obliterating entry-level positions in all fields, not just tech.

    The only way for a young person to begin their career, or an older worker to change careers, is to start at the bottom, in an entry-level job that requires little more than a degree and some very basic knowledge and skills. But those jobs don’t exist anymore. A search of so-called “entry-level” positions bring up job descriptions requiring anywhere from two to five YEARS of experience, plus a portfolio, plus 100% fluency in a laundry list of programming languages and technologies.

    Those aren’t “entry-level” jobs. They just offer entry-level pay. Ironically, I would have been willing to work for minimum wage if someone had offered me a position where I could learn and grow. But those jobs simply don’t exist.

    I don’t see how a man would be more likely to succeed in such an environment than a woman — and I have male classmates who cannot find IT jobs, either. As well as younger classmates, so even the fact that I was an older student cannot be blamed, either.

    Perhaps women are just more likely than men to give up on fruitless endeavors and look for work outside the IT field. Although my husband and I chose not to have children, most women do have kids, and a woman with a child to provide for cannot afford to keep chasing rainbows anymore than I could. They certainly cannot afford to just work for free, as I was advised to do; if I cannot afford to do that, I know that someone with a kid or two can’t.

    The focus shouldn’t be on “getting women into the tech field,” but on fixing the economy for everyone, period.

    • Marcus

      I agree with you James. African Americans with STEM degree unemployment rate is higher than womens, I wonder if I wrote a blog about it would Dice publish it. With this big push towards earning a STEM degree, it’s very difficult to talk about how useful STEM degree are when you are unemployed with one.

    • Proud Paulbot

      Outsourcing and offshoring certainly do play a role, but I don’t think they play the “biggest” role. The fact that the economy crashed does. THAT is what I feel any discussion about IT unemployment should begin and end with, yet it is largely ignored. Everyone seems to think that tech is “different,” but it’s not.

  3. Though my focus is to place a candidate and get commissions regardless of Male, Famale or any other difference, as a recruiter what i’ve seen is many women lose opportunities after job confirmation -based on location preferences – that being the number 1 reason for them to withdraw their own application. Im guessing this also leads to the second reason of not being selected based on their relevant experience – with the same number of years on the resume, women generally have less progression technology wise. Also clients are vary to have some candidates assigned to important projects when the candidates dont give clear answers whether they will be able to stay till project completion – a recruiter can backfill someone’s position if its known in advance when that candidate is going to leave, if the candidate walks out of the project – thats a hit for everyone. When it comes to commitment women give priority to personal life and maybe rightly so, but it doesnt mean they are always right in not informing their employer whats going on. Agreed that being honest may result in not getting a job, but IT employers cannot afford to have a job half done, atleast not in this current state of the market.

    • Dawn Kawamoto

      Hi Vijay, that’s an interesting observation regarding the reasons cited for women withdrawing their application. And of particular note is the issue of technology progression between the sexes given the same number of years of experience.

      Take care, Dawn

    • Gordon Aplin

      There is a known bias for women to retain custody of their children for a variety of reasons. I am an exception. I am a male engineer with custody of my children. The custodial parent has more restrictions on relocation than the non-custodial parent. My personal experience was this. I was looking for an appropriate job in the Dallas area for almost a year before I added Austin to my list of acceptable locations. I immediately found a contract in Austin. I had been delayed by trying my best to stay near Dallas to make the court proceedings go more smoothly. The court system is very slow so I still don’t have any resolution on if I can relocate my family to Austin. In the mean time my retired parents came from out of state to stay in my house and take care of my children while I work in Austin and travel back and forth 230 miles every weekend. I believe this is an example of why Vijay’s comments are accurate and may provide a reason for why that is the case. My contract in Austin comes to a close tomorrow and I have opportunities in Dallas which I am pursuing. I get many calls from recruiters asking if I am willing to relocate out of state. Of coarse I would be willing to but I am stuck in Texas.

    • Proud Paulbot

      Not only are women more likely to be custodial parents, they are also more likely to be the primary caretakers of sick/elderly relatives.

      Moving the entire family might not be an option. My great aunt died at age 95, having lived the previous 60 YEARS of her life in the same house. She was determined that the only way she was leaving her home was being carried out feet-first. No way she would have agreed to move hundreds or thousands of miles away. Even if she were willing to acquiesce, how reasonable is it to expect a frail, elderly individual to pick up and relocate to a strange city where they’ve never even visited–leaving behind their home, friends, church, neighbors, and entire support system? The move alone might kill someone like that.

  4. Nelly LaRosa

    There are numerous reasons for the widening unemployment gap. First and foremost is the H1 and L1 factor. Second, is that the hiring decision makers are overwhelmingly Indian males that carry major cultural biases towards women in general.

    • Dawn Kawamoto

      Hi Nelly, I think if that were the case, it would affect both sexes. I also haven’t seen any figures that breaks out the overall percentage of hiring managers who are males from India. If you have such figures, please send along the link to the firm that put them out.

      In the meantime, there’s a thread about H1 going on at over at this Dice story that I would encourage you to visit and weigh in on there:

      Take care, Dawn

      • Peji Sana

        uhmmm…why would it affect both sexes equally if the bias of foreign-born managers is against WOMEN…it is right there in the post. I have experienced this sexism amongst foreign IT men (it is culture, not their DNA, btw).

  5. Overall, IT is a male dominated field. Companies are looking to cut expenses so IT salaries are being lowered even in the US job market. Offshore outsourcing has played a big role in IT job unemloyment in the US. The US economy is still in recovery. Hopefully, it will recover at a faster pace. Also, the statistic may reflect the fact that the larger percentage of women in IT are older workers (baby boomers) and that less younger women are drawn to the IT field as a career choice.
    It is harder to find a job as an older American worker so the statistic is not off base.

  6. Natasha

    I am an unemployed female with twelve years of IT experience.
    I am also older than my counterparts at previous place of employment.

    Gordon Aplin’s explanation–restrictions on relocation for custodial parents– was a very good one and explains part of my reason for being out of work.

    I live in a semi-rural area. Even when the economy was good, IT jobs were scarce. Nowadays I would be grateful to get an $8/hr job. Relocation for a job is not an option for me.

    My county has an unemployment figure of 9.8%. Adjacent counties are 15% and 16%. These are May 2012 BOL numbers. My job search is a 60-mile radius.

    I have had two dozen interviews since late 2010, which was when my systems engineering position was outsourced. Eleven of the jobs that I didn’t get hired for went to young males instead. I do not know about the 13 other positions.

    There are no hard feelings on my end for the twenty-something guys getting a job that I would excel at. But a hard pill for me to swallow is knowing I was better qualified in at least some of the cases.
    I live in the so-called Bible belt; this might explain the hiring managers’ gender-bias.

    My conclusion: several factors should be explored when attempting to explain the gender gap in IT unemployment, such as peculiar regional differences. In my case, I am dealing with Southern Baptist married white males that are uncomfortable with the thought of working by my side in the middle of the night trying to save a dying server.

    • Dawn Kawamoto

      Hi Natasha and Gordon,

      Thanks for your custodial parent observations. It goes a long ways in helping to clarify this wide gap. Thoughts on workable solutions? How realistic would it be to allow highly skilled custodial parents to work remotely with the aid of video conferencing, or other workaround measures?

  7. Thanks for the serious comments, however it’s a Dilbert cartoon-like IT job market situation in my view. On a junior interview they’ll ask you questions for a senior person, no “mercy”.

    They call you or message you:
    “Hey, you have a great background, send me your resume”.
    A few days later,
    “Sorry, we do not have any position suitable for you”…

    • Proud Paulbot

      Why do employers advertise for “rock stars,” “ninjas,” and “pirates,” but never “serial killers”?

      I’d much rather hire a “serial killer [insert job title here]” than a “rock star” or any of those other things. Serial killers are meticulous, obsessive-compulsive, and highly intelligent. Rock stars burn out; serial killers never stop!

  8. Dan Wade

    First, let me say the H1’s have a lot less power and emphasis in the real world. There are plenty of jobs available, the sad reality is that getting qualified, non-telecommute applicants is difficult. I find that I’ll get 50 resumes, when I talk to people and they realize that they will have to work. Or worse, that they need to have proficiency in the skills posted in the job — they get cold feet.

    I’d love to hire a competent female, but as many of my colleagues and I observe across various STEM industries — women just don’t apply. It’s sad, very sad really.

    As for this “Indian bias”, what industries are you referring to?

    • Proud Paulbot

      Dan — my university actually told students to apply for every single IT job opening, whether or not we had any of the listed requisite skills. The so-called “advisor” for the CIS Dept. cheerily told us that, “The worst thing that can happen is nothing!”

      Uh, no. The worst thing that can happen is that the company is so enraged that you wasted their time, they won’t even consider you for a janitorial position in the future. Since I’m an adult, I knew this, and I refused to apply for any of those jobs…but I’ll bet most of the kids didn’t, and inundated hiring managers with resumes. I wonder if you’ve interviewed some of those people, the ones who are shocked when they find out that companies really do require all of the skills listed in job ads?

      I cannot speak for other women, but I “just don’t apply” to IT jobs because I’ve never seen one that I’m even remotely qualified for, despite my fancy degree. I’ve been told I should work for free to get experience, but I cannot afford to do that; I wouldn’t even be able to pay for gas or clothes, let alone keep living indoors. Even if I were a kid living off my parents, the unpaid “internships” I’ve seen require at least a couple of years of experience.

      If I could have found an entry-level tech job that paid SOMETHING–even if was just minimum wage–I would have taken it and been thrilled to have it. I set the bar pretty darned low, and I still couldn’t climb over it. So I did what I had to. I gave up on tech and am in the planning stages of a pet-sitting business. Not what I envisioned when I got a Math/CIS degree–I would have rather used my degree–but I had to be realistic and go into a field where I could actually earn money.

      The “shortage” of “qualified” workers is due to there being no entry-level opportunities for new graduates. Since nobody is being brought in and trained at the bottom of the ladder, as people retire or otherwise leave the field at the top, there’s no one to replace them.

      • Tasha

        I agree 100% with PROUD PAULBOT.
        I on the other hand have been in the IT business for a little over 2 years and the only job I’ve been able to land is an internship through my school that only lasted 6 months. I have been trying for the past 7 months to land a job and nothing- nada- zip! I apply to everything that I am qualified for and I receive no response back more than half the time. I’m totally stuck and need a job like yesterday.

        So Dan, if you are looking for a “women in IT” well then I’m willing to help. Or anyone for that matter. Because there just simply is not any entry-level IT jobs. Not in Illinois anyways!