The percentage of women in the information technology work force declined from a high of 41 percent in 1996 to 32.4 percent in 2004, according to a report Wednesday by the Information Technology Association of America trade group. The shrinking representation of women is due largely to the fact that one out of every three women in the IT work force falls into administrative job categories that have experienced significant overall declines in recent years, the ITAA said.
But even after excluding those administrative categories--such as "data entry keyer"--from analysis, the report finds that women's share of the IT work force has declined, from 25.6 percent to 24.9 percent.
The report, based on data from the U.S. Department of Labor's Current Population Surveys, also found that some minority groups continue to be underrepresented in the IT field.
The ITAA's study suggested programs to increase the participation of women and minorities in the computer field are not making much, if any, headway.
"America is competing in the global economy with one hand tied behind her back," ITAA President Harris Miller said in a statement. "With competitors like China, India and Western Europe on our heels, we can ill afford to miss out on anyone with the right aptitude, skills and motivation to succeed in technical fields. Leaders in industry, education and government must redouble their efforts to ensure that all Americans, particularly women and minorities, recognize the opportunities available in science, technology, engineering and math."
Wednesday's report follows other studies that showin the computer science arena and by blacks and Hispanics in scientific, technological, engineering and math occupations.
Women's presence in the sciences became a hot-button topic earlier this year after Harvard University President Lawrence Summers suggested that innate differences between the sexes could help explain why fewer women succeed in science and math careers.
Despite discouraging statistics, some efforts to bring women back to computing. That's seen as vital for many reasons, including fueling the and preventing male bias in the way future technology is developed.
The ITAA's study found that while Hispanics made up 12.9 percent of the U.S. work force, they were only 6.4 percent of the IT work force. The figure represents a slight increase from 5.3 percent in 1996.
In 1996, blacks made up 9.1 percent of the IT work force, versus 8.3 percent in 2004, the report said. The percentage of blacks in the overall work force in 2004 is the same as it was in 1996, 10.7 percent.
The percentage of whites in the IT work force also has dropped, from 82.5 percent in 1996 to 77.7 percent in 2004. This is a sharper decline than in the overall U.S. work force, where the percentage of whites dropped from 85.1 percent in 1996 to 82.8 percent in 2004, the report said.
Asians, on the other hand, have increased their share of IT jobs over time. The percentage of Asians in the IT work force rose from 8.9 percent in 1996 to 12.1 percent in 2004, the report said. Asians made up 4 percent of the work force in 1996 and 4.3 percent in 2004.
On the other hand, the share of Asians in the IT work force and the overall work force was slightly higher in 2003 than 2004. This may be due in part to "the recent political pressure to restrict visas on all immigrants, and particularly certain categories of visas for highly skilled workers, such as H-1B and L-1 visas," the report said.
"Also, anecdotally, the (U.S.) IT industry is experiencing a 'brain drain' among certain foreign-born IT workers who have been working in the U.S. IT work force for years and are now returning to their native countries like India, Pakistan and China to lead major technology companies," the report said.
According to the ITAA, perceived hurdles for women and minorities in tech include stereotypes that women and certain minorities are not skilled in math and sciences; a lack of mentoring and role models in leadership positions; and negative perceptions of IT work. A reduction in flexible work arrangements following the dot-com boom might also account for the reduction in the representation of women in the IT work force, the group said.
The study also found that the U.S. IT work force is getting older. The average median age of the IT work force is approaching that of the overall work force, gaining 2.1 years between 2000 and 2004, to 39.7 years. The median age of the overall work force rose 1.1 years during the same time frame to 40.5 years, according to the report.