Against All Odds, from All-Girls Schools to All-Boys Workplaces: Women’s Unsuspecting Trajectory Into the UK ICT Sector

Against All Odds, from All-Girls Schools to All-Boys Workplaces: Women’s Unsuspecting Trajectory Into the UK ICT Sector

Marie Griffiths (University of Salford, UK) and Helen Richardson (University of Salford, UK)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-813-5.ch006
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The trend for women to be severely under-represented in the UK ICT (information and communication technology) sector persists. Girls continue, year in year out, to excel in academia whilst initiatives are put in place to challenge the gender employment gap in ICT1 professions. As part of a larger research study of women in the ICT labour market, over 500 women were asked about their initial routes into ICT; this included educational backgrounds, influential factors and perceptions of that transition. In analysing the findings we attempt to explain the tendency for women in our sample group to come from single-sex schools and to have a predilection for mathematics and the sciences, then move into male dominated educational and work environments. Our findings report on the personal experiences of women’s unsuspecting trajectory into the UK ICT sector.
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There is a declining minority of women taking ICT and technology related subjects at school and University in the UK and the numbers of ICT professionals in the labour market are similarly at an all time low comprising around 15% (EOC 2004). Women ICT students are commonly a small minority and experience similar isolation in higher education. Often excluded, facing direct and indirect discrimination, stereotyping, with barriers to advancement (Adam et al 2006), research indicates that women leave the ICT profession in disproportionate numbers (Platman and Taylor 2004) vowing never to return (Griffiths et al 2007). So an interesting question remains: why do women study and work in ICT at all? This chapter draws on empirical work from six research projects completed during 2004-2006 that investigated the severe under-representation of women in ICT professions2 Research has suggested that the backgrounds and entry routes of women ICT professionals are diverse and unpredictable (Webster 2005) and include women who excelled in maths and science or those with support from parents or a particular teacher. Accidental encounters with computers have often been the root of a passionate interest and rather than being alienated from technology many have been attracted to the opportunities of analytical problem solving and the creativeness of the work (Webster 2005). Faulkner (2005) discussing the entry routes of women engineers found them to be often ‘unusual’ women, rebellious, remarkable, those who were seeking a challenge but always with a story to tell.

In this chapter we tell the stories of the experiences of 14 women of the 500 plus ICT professionals in the UK who participated in our research. Against all odds many developed a passion for working with computers often stemming from experiences at home and in single-sex education. Their routes into the ICT profession are varied and generally involve experiencing a shock when moving to University classes or workplaces where for the first time they experience themselves as one of very few women. We examine studies that have advocated all-girls schooling as a counter to the ‘masculine domain’ of technology education (Clegg 2001), yet the ‘jury is still out’ (Speilhofer et al 2002) on whether this is a significant factor informing gendered career choices. In this chapter we present rich descriptions of women’s trajectories into the ICT labour market and an opportunity for interesting stories of – in our view - remarkable women to be heard. We firstly outline the situation of women in the UK ICT labour market and introduce some issues related to technological education and single sex schooling. We then develop specific themes from our case study research informed by social and structural influences (Adya and Kaiser 2005) that have shaped women’s career trajectories. Social influence for example involves gender stereotyping and the influence of teachers, families and media. Structural influences include institutional support and access to technology and opportunities.

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Editorial Advisory Board
Table of Contents
Madeleine Cæsar
Shirley Booth, Sara Goodman, Gill Kirkup
Chapter 1
Inger Boivie
This chapter explores aspects of the gendering of computer science and IT, related to epistemological issues of what computing is and what type of... Sample PDF
Women, Men and Programming : Knowledge, Metaphors and Masculinity
Chapter 2
Ulf Mellström
This chapter investigates how and why computer science in Malaysia is dominated by women. Drawing on recent critical interventions in gender and... Sample PDF
New Gender Relations in the Transforming IT-Industry of Malaysia
Chapter 3
Eva Maria Hoffmann
In Afghanistan, the development of information technology (IT) as an industry and an educational field is still quite young, but this provides the... Sample PDF
Women in Computer Science in Afghanistan
Chapter 4
Johanna Sefyrin
In information technology (IT) design it is essential to develop rich and nuanced understandings of messy design realities. In this chapter Karen... Sample PDF
"For me it doesn't matter where I put my information": Enactments of Agency, Mutual Learning, and Gender in IT Design
Chapter 5
Christina Mörtberg, Pirjo Elovaara
The Swedish public sector is involved in an overwhelming change process aiming towards creating a good-service society based on information... Sample PDF
Attaching People and Technology: Between E and Government
Chapter 6
Marie Griffiths, Helen Richardson
The trend for women to be severely under-represented in the UK ICT (information and communication technology) sector persists. Girls continue, year... Sample PDF
Against All Odds, from All-Girls Schools to All-Boys Workplaces: Women’s Unsuspecting Trajectory Into the UK ICT Sector
Chapter 7
Agneta Gulz, Magnus Haake
This chapter explores motivational and cognitive effects of more neutral or androgynous-looking versus more feminine-looking and masculine-looking... Sample PDF
Challenging Gender Stereotypes Using Virtual Pedagogical Characters
Chapter 8
Martha Blomqvist
This chapter presents a study on the use of research based information on gender and IT education disseminated by Swedish newspapers between 1994... Sample PDF
Absent Women: Research on Gender Relations in IT Education Mediated by Swedish Newspapers
Chapter 9
Els Rommes
The aim of this chapter is to explore to what extent heteronormativity, the norm that man and woman are attracted to each other because of their... Sample PDF
Heteronormativity Revisited: Adolescents’ Educational Choices, Sexuality and Soaps
Chapter 10
Shirley Booth, Eva Wigforss
The chapter tells of two women with low educational qualifications who embark on a journey into higher education by taking a distance course to... Sample PDF
Approaching Higher Education: A Life-World Story of Home-Places, Work-Places and Learn-Places
Chapter 11
Annika Bergviken Rensfeldt, Sandra Riomar
This chapter problematizes how gender is constructed and used in the arguments of flexible distance education. By using a gender and space analysis... Sample PDF
Gendered Distance Education Spaces: “Keeping Women in Place”?
Chapter 12
Minna Salminen-Karlsson
In this study of computer courses in municipal adult education, 173 questionnaires from 10 Swedish adult education centres with students taking a... Sample PDF
Computer Courses in Adult Education in a Gender Perspective
Chapter 13
Gill Kirkup
This chapter examines the access women have had historically to engage in knowledge production as university scholars or students. It discusses the... Sample PDF
Gendered Knowledge Production in Universities in a Web 2.0 World
Chapter 14
Gwyneth Hughes
Collaborative learning online is increasingly popular and the interaction between learners is documented and discussed, but gender is largely absent... Sample PDF
Queen Bees, Workers and Drones : Gender Performance in Virtual Learning Groups
Chapter 15
Gill Kirkup, Sigrid Schmitz, Erna Kotkamp, Els Rommes, Aino-Maija Hiltunen
This chapter argues that the future development of European e-learning needs to be informed by gender theory, and feminist and other critical... Sample PDF
Towards a Feminist Manifesto for e-Learning: Principles to Inform Practices*
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