Big Data set to break through the women in IT barrier

New technology trends are set to make IT a very appealing career prospect for women in future, says IBM.

August 28, 2013

New technology trends are set to make IT a very appealing career prospect for women in future, says IBM. Global IT firms have tried valiantly for years to encourage girls and young women to enter the world of IT, but the gender balance in the IT sector is still heavily loaded in favour of males.

However, this is set to change suddenly and dramatically, thanks to new technologies and the surge in businesses’ need to find suitable skills to help them use these technologies to their full potential. IBM, aiming to be the premier global employer for women, is delighted by the potential for these new technologies to attract large numbers of women into the IT skills pool at last.

Ocea Garriock, Software Group Technical Leader of IBM South Africa notes that women remain under-represented science, technology, engineering, math jobs. In South Africa, the stats say that at the post graduate level, the number of women has increased but women still represent less than 10% of enrolled students. In the workforce, women make up 18% of the core IT workforce while they represent 75% of the IT end users in the country.

Recent research by the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Michigan revealed that women may be less likely to want careers in science, technology engineering and maths not because they lack maths ability, but because girls with high maths ability are also more likely to have a high verbal ability. This results in their having more career options, and they frequently elect to embark on careers leveraging their verbal ability. The researchers concluded that attracting more women to these careers was not so much a case of boosting girls’ aptitude, but about making careers in these areas more welcoming, accessible and financially attractive.

“We believe new technology trends – notably Big Data management and analysis – will do this,” says Garriock.

“Big Data – the massive volumes of data now available around the world – has the potential to profoundly change the way businesses are run and societies operate,” says Garriock. “But in order to tap in to the value that Big Data can deliver, businesses need skilled staff to ask the right questions, use next generation technology intuitively, and find insights that benefit business. These Big Data analysis skills are in desperately short supply, because Big Data technology is so new.”

Enterprises are expected to invest heavily in Big Data analysis skills in future, presenting lucrative career opportunities for those with a combination of skills and personal strengths – including the ability to multitask, understand business objectives, assess statistics and communicate findings at a high level.

In some fields, such as communications, product design, public sector service delivery, customer service and marketing, Big Data analysis experts and scientists will also need to possess some understanding of sociology or psychology in order to seek insights that are relevant within the vast data sources. This presents new and exciting opportunities for those who may have leaned towards studying social sciences.

Because the skills shortage in the Big Data arena will soon become critical, it is likely that businesses will go to great lengths to ensure that women see IT as an appealing career choice.

Garriock says: “At IBM, we have long had a culture and environment in which women feel welcomed and valued. Indeed, since 1995, our global women executive population has increased 523% and represents 24.9% of the global executive population, while 65% of our global executive women are working mothers. We endeavor to get girls excited about IT careers through initiatives such as our global EX.I.T.E. (+Ex+ploring +I+nterests in +T+echnology and +E+ngineering) camps and Women in Technology (WIT) Schools. As a Big Data technology pioneer, we now see opportunities opening up that we believe will interest scores of young women who may previously not have considered careers in IT.”