JANE IS A FAMOUS British comic begun during WWII to improve troop morale. The title character is a plucky English lady who always seems to lose her clothes at inopportune moments. This strange predeliction was enough to keep the fighting men happy and helped inspire them defeat the Gerries back in those horrible yet strangely innocent days. With constant changes of illustration style, the comic persisted into the 1960s. Of course the pill and the sexual revolution made the strange little cartoon irrelevant, and that was the end of Jane.
A few days back, we remarked on the strange absence of real data about web design and the designers, developers, IAs, writers, project managers, and other specialists and hybrids who do this work. In all the years people have been creating websites, nobody bothered to gather statistics about who does this work, using what skills, under what conditions, and for what kinds of compensation.
In the absence of statistics specific to our field, commissioning research got us only so far. It was time to take the next step.
Presenting A List Apart’s first annual web design survey. The information it collects will help us form a long overdue picture of the ways web design is really practiced around the globe. The more people who complete the survey, the richer and more detailed the picture will become.
Depending on how you answer it, the survey has up to 37 questions, nearly all of them multiple choice. A fluent English speaker should be able to complete the survey in ten minutes or less.
In structuring the sections on employment, we patterned certain questions along the lines established by previous surveys undertaken by AIGA and The Information Architecture Institute. The similarity will afford easier comparisons across the three surveys. This comparability will be useful because some “web designers” are also (or primarily) designers, and thus also fall under AIGA’s umbrella, while other “web designers” are primarily information architects.
Hosted by An Event Apart, the survey will remain open until 22 May, 2007. After we close it, we’ll slice and dice the data and present our findings in a future issue of A List Apart.
Help us increase accurate knowledge about—and deepen respect for—the profession of web design. Take the survey and spread the word. (You might even win a free ticket to An Event Apart, a 30GB video iPod, an Event Apart jump drive, or a funky A List Apart T-shirt.)
Also in this issue of A List Apart, for people who make websites:
In the virtual conference room, no one can hear you scream. Social networking enables knowledge workers like us to build virtual companies with no office space and little overhead. But can we make them succeed? Follett dissects the skills required to create, manage, and grow the virtual firm.
Yes, Virginia, design does matter. Better web page layouts aren’t only about aesthetics. A layout with clear hierarchies can turn scanners to readers, and readers to members. Learn how visual contrast can turn lifeless web pages into sizzling calls to action.
The underrepresentation of women and minorities in the information technology workforce is like the weather: everybody talks about it, but nobody does anything.
In February 2007, Jason Kottke called our community on its inertia by publishing information showing the low percentage of female speakers at conferences about design, technology, and the web. One conference he cited was An Event Apart, which I founded with Eric Meyer.
How can conference organizers, employers and educators help our field better reflect the world we live in? One problem in deciding what to do about the issue is that, as is so often the case with matters of equality and justice, surprisingly little is known about the phenomenon or its causes. Feelings and anecdotes are plentiful, facts are scarce.
So An Event Apart commissioned a fact-finding mission. We hired researchers at The New York Public Library to find out everything that is actually known about the percentage of women in our field, and their positions relative to their male colleagues. Because such research could go on indefinitely, we assigned the project a budget and time-frame; researchers worked within those constraints.
The data they mined concerned women and minorities in the information technology (IT) workforce. IT was as close as we could come to our specific field. There is no data on web design and web designers. Web design is twelve years old, employs hundreds of thousands (if not millions), and generates billions, so you’d think there would be some basic research data available on it, but there ain’t. (Maybe A List Apart will gather such data one day, perhaps in collaboration with a logical partner like Boxes and Arrows.)
So the first disclaimer is that our research covers IT, not just web design. The second is that we’re still sifting the data we received. This is nothing like a final report. If a final report emerges, it will come from An Event Apart.
All that out of the way, the picture that emerges is disturbing:
Men outnumber women in this workforce by over three to one.
The percentage of women employed in the field is declining instead of growing.
Women who participate in the field may not be promoted as often or as high as their male colleagues.
Here, briefly cited, is a small portion of “Untapped Talent: Diversity, Competition, and America’s High Tech Future,” a 21 June 2007 special report by the Information Technology Association of America:
This study by the Information Technology Association of America (ITAA) finds that women and most racial minorities remain significantly underrepresented in today’s U.S information technology (IT) workforce. By examining data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Current Population Surveys, this report, like previous ITA diversity studies conducted in 1998 and 2003, documents the percentages of women and minorities in BLS occupational classifications that comprise the IT workforce in 2004 and compares them to previous years to determine the progression and regression of diversity. The data presentation is followed by a discussion of possible barriers to entry for underrepresented groups and solutions to overcoming those barriers. The report also highlights successful public- and private-sector groups that encourage more diversity and support women and minorities in IT.
The news here is not good: The percentage of women in the IT workforce has declined by 18.5% since 1996, from a high of 41% in 1996 to 32.4% in 2004. This is true even while the percentage of women in the overall workforce remained relatively unchanged. Women are also far less likely to return to the IT workforce….
The declining representation of women is due largely to the fact that one out of every three women in the IT workforce fall into administrative job categories that have experienced significant overall declines in recent years. When those categories are excluded from the analysis, the percentage of women in IT drops from 32.4% to 24.9%. The figures represent no progress in the numbers of women in the professional or management ranks from the relatively low 25.4% mark achieved in 2002. At best, the data suggest that the number of all women in the IT industry is dropping substantially; at worst, these statistics illustrate a situation in which women are failing to advance in the managerial and professional ranks and the IT industry is failing to draw on a critical talent base.