Women in IT Delay Marriage, Motherhood to Advance Careers But Still Miss Top Jobs

One-third of technical women wait to start families in order to advance their IT careers, according to new research on mid-career technical women. Nearly 10 percent forgo having children altogether--and despite these moves, women are still struggling to win executive roles in IT.

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Thu, October 16, 2008

CIO — Women are making profound personal sacrifices to advance their IT careers, but their efforts to get ahead are largely for naught, a new study of mid-career women in IT finds.

According to the study, which was conducted by the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology and Stanford University's Michelle R. Clayman Institute for Gender Research earlier this year, one-third of mid-level technical women surveyed said they postponed motherhood to achieve their career goals. In comparison, 18 percent of technical men reported doing the same. Thus, mid-level women in IT are almost twice as likely as men to delay having children while they pursue their careers.

Women in mid-level IT jobs are also almost three times more likely than men to forgo having children altogether. Nearly one in 10 women (9 percent) said they decided against having kids to focus on their careers, compared with just 3.5 percent of men, according to the research.

Roughly the same amount of men and women put off marriage (12.3 and 11.9 percent respectively) to establish themselves professionally. But more women put their careers ahead of getting married their whole lives: 7.8 percent of women surveyed said they remained single to focus on their careers, compared to 2.5 percent of men.

The study authors conclude that the personal sacrifices that women in IT make to get ahead testify to the lengths women have to go to be successful in a male-dominated field.

Not surprisingly, women interviewed for the study reported feeling forced to choose between their careers and having a family. One woman taking part in the research said that if she really wanted to work her way up the ladder in IT, having a family would be a disadvantage. Why? Because women surveyed and interviewed for the study said they have to work longer and harder than men to get promotions due to double standards, biases and gender stereotypes that are prevalent in high-tech companies. (For resources on how to reduce gender bias in your organization and ideas on ways to recruit and retain women to IT jobs, see Making Your IT Department More Attractive to Women and Six More Ways to Recruit Women.

Risk, but Little Reward

Unfortunately, the sacrifices and compromises women make to advance their careers may not guarantee their success, the research authors concluded. The survey found that technical men are nearly three times more likely than technical women to hold an executive-level position in their companies.

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