The National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT) released their report “Women in IT: The Facts” today, examining the current state of affairs for women working in IT and computing careers. The report addresses some of the reasons why women leave the industry at staggering rates and what companies can do to attract and retain them.

Although the percentage of jobs held by women in almost all other sciences has increased, the report indicates that women’s participation in computing jobs has been on the decline since 1991, when it reached a high of 36%. Although the overall number of jobs in the computing sector is increasing, interest in computing careers – for men and women – is shrinking.

According to NCWIT, if these trends continue, by 2018 the U.S. tech industry will only be able to fill half the available IT jobs.

Women’s Declining Participation in IT Impacts Profits & Innovation

The NCWIT report contains extensive data about how the loss of women in IT impacts corporate profitability, innovation, and competitiveness. For example, companies with the highest representation of women in senior management teams had a 35% higher return on equity and a 34% higher return to shareholders.

The report challenges the stereotype that women are simply not interested in technology careers. Even women majoring in computer science tend to pursue careers in other industries.

Women who do work in the tech sector have an attrition rate that is more than double that of men. The NCWIT report contends that 56% of women in technology companies leave their organizations at the mid-level point (10-20 years) in their careers, a costly loss of talent. Simply reducing this attrition rate by one quarter would add over 200,000 workers to the IT talent pool.

The research indicates that unconscious bias and gender pay gaps are significant factors. Women account for just 9% of IT management positions and after 15 years experience and earn 11% less than men do. Other factors that women point to for leaving the IT workforce include isolation, lack of role models and mentors, poor supervisory relationships and competing life responsibilities.

Addressing the Barriers to Participation

The report also provides detailed advice about what companies can do to combat the loss of female IT talent. The primary recommendation is for companies to develop an “ecosystem of reform,” which author and NCWIT senior research scientist Catherine Ashcraft outlines in the report. Ashcraft suggests a multi-pronged approach that includes establishing top leadership support and institutional accountability, as well as improving the supervisory relationship.

NCWIT is a coalition of over 200 corporations, academic institutions, non profits, and governmental agencies working to address some of these challenges. NCWIT supports efforts within the workforce, in universities, and in K-12 education in order to increase women’s participation in IT – in the classroom, in startups, and in corporations. “Women in IT: The Facts” was sponsored by the NCWIT Workforce Alliance, which includes Fortune 500 companies such as AT&T, Avaya, Bank of America, Boehringer Ingelheim, Cisco, EMC, Google, HP, IBM, Intel, Marriott, Medco, Microsoft, Motorola, Pfizer, Qualcomm and Wal-Mart.