The Shrinking Female IT Workforce

Women in mid-management are leaving IT at an alarming rate. The tough economy may be a help -- or a hindrance -- in keeping them.

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Those frequent calculations have led to an ongoing exodus of women from IT, especially in middle management, according to the 2009 NCWIT study "Women in IT: The Facts." Some 74% of women in technology report "loving their work," yet those women leave their careers at a staggering rate. About 56% of technical women leave at the "midlevel" point, more than double the quit rate of men.

Researchers blame the midcareer departures most often on isolation, a dearth of mentors, and a lack of access to the types of networks that men have, Ashcraft says.

Another factor is "competing responsibilities and work-life balance issues," she adds. "A lot of people think [of choosing] a tech career because it involves technology that can be done more flexibly from home. It can, but you have the flexibility to work all the time!"

But for women who choose to stay in IT, the glass ceiling appears to be coming down. "In the last few years we've seen an increase of female CIOs in major companies," as well as an increase in women in the IT workforce, says Carolyn Leighton, founder and CEO of Women in Technology International, a professional association.

Indeed, the percentage of women CIOs or executive vice presidents of technology at 1,000 leading companies rose to 16.4% in 2009, up from 12% in 2007, according to recruiting firm Sheila Greco Associates LLC.

Deborah Lindell, CIO at the Delaware Department of Corrections, credits her success to the fact that she has worked with a lot of people, nearly all of them men, who gave her opportunities.

"They found my brand of salesmanship and persuasiveness intriguing, and they liked how I approached a business problem from a technical perspective," says Lindell, 50, who is married with one child.

She also made seven or eight lateral moves in 14 years at her previous employer. That mobility helped her stay engaged at a point in her career when she might otherwise have left IT.

"I saw something that needed to be done and asked for the challenge. I did that a number of times, and when you are successful, people believe in you," she explains.

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