Unemployment Gap Narrows for Women in IT

The gap in the unemployment rates for women and men in technology showed signs of narrowing during the first quarter: The unemployment rate for women in computer and mathematical occupations fell to 3.1 percent, compared with 3.7 percent for men, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

Q1 Tech Unemployment Chart

But this seems to be more than a one-quarter thing. A 12-month moving average of unemployment rates between women and men in IT from the Economic Policy Institute shows the gender gap narrowing over the past nine months. “The unemployment rate for men improved sooner than women, post-recession,” says Heidi Shierholz, an EPI economist. “Women didn’t improve as much for a couple of years, so the gap widened. But over the past nine months, it has improved for women, so it appears the gap is closing.”

12-Month Women/Men Moving Average

Shierholz cautions, however, that the sample pool for the sector’s women is much smaller than men’s, so there is greater volatility in the results.

Why the Tightening?

Over the past several years, companies have become particularly interested in attracting and retaining women IT workers, observes Carolyn Leighton, founder and chairwoman of Women in Technology International, popularly known as WITI. “There’s a greater awareness over the last two or three years. We see more companies reaching out to us and calling us to partner with WITI, whereas 10 years ago we were always calling companies,” she says.

That shift toward a corporate desire to hire and retain women in the IT workforce undoubtedly plays a role in narrowing the gap. Companies are increasingly seeking women technologists as siloed IT departments give way to organizations that touch a number of departments spread across the enterprise.

“Originally, if you were an IT programmer and didn’t want to communicate with anyone, that worked. But now, people are not just great programmers but also need to be great communicators to the sales department and other departments within the business,” Leighton notes. “They have to feel comfortable working with others and companies are starting to recognize the ability of women to collaborate, communicate and build consensus.”

Shierholz doesn’t entirely agree. While she says the way companies perceive women in IT has likely changed over the years, she questions if that’s what’s driving the shrinking gap in the unemployment numbers. “I don’t think it explains why women’s unemployment rates have come down so fast in the past nine months and why it rose faster than men’s during the recession,” she says. “I think it’s a reflection of how companies are coping in the aftermath of the recession, rather than being driven by broad structural changes.”

However, she believes those broad structural changes may have tempered the depth of the unemployment rate for women in technology. “Twenty years ago, the unemployment rate for women may have risen faster,” Shierholz says.

4 Responses to “Unemployment Gap Narrows for Women in IT”

  1. It’s great to see these types of observations being communicated regarding women’s roles in computers and math. As a woman in technology, I think it is important to continue to drill down on the data to determine what types of positions are represented in these observations of “computers and math” environments. Determining what specific types of roles are being filled by women will help define this statistic better. After all, computers and math really just hits the tip of the iceberg when referring to breadth of how inclusive information technology and engineering have become.

    I am a woman in technology, who is often surrounded by all male co-workers. It is a challenge as such keeping up with norms and behavior that continues to allow me to work in these environments. I consistently encourage men to either re-write job descriptions better that may encourage more women to apply, and/or encourage these men to be more open to finding women to fill open IT positions. The interesting part of my observations is that most of these men would prefer to have more women as work mates. Smart women need to apply. And, usually, it’s only the smartest that do and are hired. But often smart women are often not intrigued with working in an all male environment. So, a double edged sword. Also, these all male environments are often very cut-throat on who is king of the mountain, whereas women prefer to work in more collegiate environments where teams achieve together, and fall together.

  2. John Dean

    It is very important to know that the IT unemployment rate at 4.1% is in no way accurate, I am unemployed but am definitely not being counted as unemployed because I am not looking for work or receiving unemployment any longer. Where do they get these numbers from, The unemployment rate is never accurate because they only count people who are registered with an employment office as being unemployed. If someone is fired or quits their job, or is just not working, they will not be counted as unemployed unless they apply to receive unemployment. I have not been looking for work because I have decided to continue studying and taking further classes towards my degree and if I have to work for someone else I will not have enough time to concentrate on my studies.

    • Mark Feffer

      Though this is scant comfort, the number is correct, at least in terms of being called the unemployment rate. You’re right that people who aren’t working are at some points dropped from the survey. Someone in your situation wouldn’t be counted because you’re taking another path right now. As Yvonne says, the specifics are in the BLS explanation.