“Information technology was supposed to be a radically new form of work, but the experience has been less than progressive for women.” So says Krista Scott-Dixon, a York University researcher and author of “Doing IT: Women Working in Information Technology.”
After interviewing 50 women in the tech sector and marrying that information with Statistics Canada data on gender and work, Scott-Dixon got a snapshot of women’s role in IT. And it isn’t pretty, she says. Contrary to popular belief, the tech industry is still dominated by a male youth culture. What’s more, Scott-Dixon contends this new status quo keeps gender, race, class and pay inequities firmly in place. “People complain that there are fewer women engineers and developers in the industry. It’s bizarre how people blame women for a supposed lack of interest in a field that’s hostile to them.”
For starters, women IT workers still earn less than men for doing the same job. According to StatsCan figures, the average annual salary of a female engineering manager is about $52,400, versus $84,600 for men.
And while the image of the “round-the-clock high tech worker” has largely dissipated, the expectation of working long hours remains. So, too, are such employment perks as free coffee and junk food, fitness facilities and video games for workers to enjoy on their downtime. The trouble is, says Scott-Dixon, these arrangements simply don’t work for many women, who are still the primary caregivers at home.
Scott-Dixon also found the boys club extends to after hours, replacing the golf course with the PlayStation. “They don’t invite somebody’s Mom to play video games. You’re just not part of that culture. And that’s where the networking and career advancement really happens.”
Still, there is some good news. The majority of technology jobs are moving towards a hybrid or “interdisciplinary” model, in which psychology majors work with software staff to design user interfaces, says Scott-Dixon. Or positions that combine technology work with editing, publishing and marketing know-how. All of these offer inroads to women who are less likely to pursue education in the traditional IT disciplines of computer science and engineering.