The tech industry’s education pipeline problem is well established. Companies often cite too few qualified college graduates who are women or people of color as a primary reason for the industry’s diversity issues. But a new report suggests they may be looking in the wrong place.
According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR), tech employers could more quickly boost their gender diversity by hiring women in lower paying jobs.
“What we were trying to do is move beyond the way we typically see occupations,” said Ariane Hegewisch, Program Director of Employment and Earnings for the Institute for Women’s Policy Research in Washington, D.C. “You say you can’t find women, but here they are more likely to graduate from high school and working low-wage jobs….Here are women under your noses who you should train.”
IWPR’s report found that some IT jobs, such as web developers and computer system analysts, share similar skills to some occupations predominantly held by women. And with a little creative thinking, tech companies could more rapidly close their gender gap by recruiting women who work as librarians, clinical lab technicians, or in human resources.
More than 70 percent of librarians, clinical lab technicians, and compensation and benefits specialists are women, along with nearly 64 percent of statistical assistants, the report found. Each of those jobs could potentially transition into tech careers because they require strong computing skills and often at least a four-year college degree.
For example, librarians must hold a master’s degree and earn around $50,000 a year for a median salary. Contrarily, web developers, where seven out of 10 are men, are only required to have an associate’s degree but earn a median salary of $62,500.
A librarian may not seem like a natural candidate for a tech company offhand, but the job requires adeptness at data manipulation, web development tools, and strong communication skills. And because everyone needs training in new positions, it’s a worthwhile risk for employers to think outside the box.
“The nature of middle skilled jobs is that they are skilled jobs,” Hegewisch said. “If you train someone, it’s an investment,” for employers and individuals, but there’s less risk when there are similarities between jobs.
“When you thinking about computing, it’s a fairly new occupation. Most people moved in laterally,” she said. “You already work with a lot of data, you communicate that data with other people. It suggests that you have an affinity to numbers to data to quantitative analysis.”
To bridge the gender gap, tech companies, such as Google, have poured money into primary school education programs aimed at getting young girls interested in tech earlier. While those efforts will likely help make sure more women are in the next generation of software developers and engineers, they won’t have an immediate effect on companies’ diversity numbers.
The tech industry is expected to swell in the coming decade. More than 50,000 web developers will be needed by 2024 to meet demand, according to the IWPR’s report. Additionally, the number of programmers is expected to by increase 29 percent by 2020, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Software developers will be in especially high demand, as the field will have 72 percent more jobs, while demand for computer systems analysts — one of the potentially transitional positions IWPR focused on — will boost 43 percent in the next five years.
Coupled with the tech industry’s push to be more inclusive, the significant job growth projected across occupations might create perfect conditions for women in lateral but lower paying jobs to make a career switch. And who knows? The next greatest app could be the brain child of the woman curating the digital resources at your local library.