Gender Gap Widens Within IT

Women depart due to hours, demands

SAN DIEGO

Weary of responding to late-night alerts and troubleshooting calls, Bethany King had finally had enough. Six months ago, she closed the book on a 12-year stretch as a storage administrator to become an IT auditor.

I had a 14-year-old daughter that I didnt want to leave alone at 3 a.m., said King, who was allowed to shift to the more flexible IT position at The Empire District Electric Co., a Joplin, Mo.-based electricity supplier.

That really was one of the reasons I got out. I couldve made it work, but its just a choice that I made not to, she added, noting that her husband is a firefighter who works various shifts.

King discussed her decision last week at the Storage Networking World conference, sponsored by Computerworld and the Storage Networking Industry Association.

Some attendees said Kings situation is but one example of what could become a major problem for IT organizations: An alarming number of women are abandoning IT jobs that require them to be on call at virtually all hours. Some attendees noted that not only are women leaving such jobs, but few others are showing interest in joining the IT profession.

The U.S. economy is expected to add 1.5 million IT jobs by 2012, according to the U.S. Department of Labor statistics. At the same time, research firm Gartner Inc. predicts that by 2012, 40% of women now in the IT workforce will have moved away from technical career paths to pursue more flexible business, functional, and research and development careers.

That projection doesnt bode well for companies that will be looking for skilled women who can round out and manage teams that run and maintain storage environments.

Dot Brunette, network and storage manager at Grand Rapids, Mich.-based retailer Meijer Inc. and a 30-year IT veteran, said that women are tending to migrate out of storage-related IT jobs because of the long hours and heavy user demands.

IT is very much a culture, and it consumes a lot of time, said Brunette. I think women in that regard are at a real disadvantage. She noted that the reason why many companies cant attract female workers and may see them leave key IT jobs is because they fail to provide day care at work, or work-at-home options for someone who leaves to have a child.

Brunette manages 10 staffers including only one woman who oversee Tivoli Storage Manager and other tape storage tools in Meijers IT operation.

Serge Mukoka, technical infrastructure team lead at San Ramon, Calif.-based Chevron Corp., said he has difficulty finding and recruiting women to become part of the IT group at the energy firm. What I like about [working in an IT storage] environment is its very performance-driven, so we get to look at new stuff all the time. But even that doesnt seem to help us retain female candidates, said Mukoka. We [also] have a hard time finding them. I definitely see a challenge there for us.

Lisa Johnson, manager of systems at Irvine, Calif.-based media company Freedom Communications Inc. and an IT administrator for 15 years, said she believes that women can provide a crucial balance within IT groups.

Men are usually fascinated by technology, where women take it as a tool to enhance what theyre doing, Johnson said. Women are definitely more communicative.

Johnson said she currently manages three women and seven men. She noted that mentor relationships, team-building and training are critical in helping to keep women interested in the IT field.

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