Gender and Professionalism in IT Fields
Esther Ruiz Ben (Technische Universität Berlin, Germany)
Copyright © 2006.
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From a historical point of view, IT professions have their origin in increasing computerisation, especially in the insurance and banking businesses. This stimulated a rise in demand for highly qualified programmers with the ability to take into account the economic side of business gains during the 60s1. To satisfy the need for such qualified people, computer science was institutionalised in universities in the 70s. The newly emerging software enterprises, mostly from the U.S., occupied the fields formally served by hardware enterprises and played a crucial role in the development of the IT industry. This included the development of new organisational cultures that were less hierarchically oriented. Moreover, the expansion of the sector and creation of new jobs enlarged the jurisdictional fields of work for software developers. At this stage in the evolution of IT professionalisation, we can find many optimistic views stating that new computing areas would be gender-neutral spaces that provided opportunities for women’s participation (Deakin, 1984). Nevertheless, as Griffiths (1988, p. 145) pointed out at the end of the eighties, within a decade computers had been appropriated by men. With the Internet boom of the 1990s, the sector became even more diversified in its jurisdictional fields, which hindered an institutionalisation of career paths and professionalisation2. New occupations arose alongside the technological progress in the information and communication industries. This brought about structural changes that influenced the development of professional groups: First, there was a common dynamic of innovation processes in the IT branch.” This was followed by increasing standardisation processes in the working fields and an essential erosion of jurisdictional constancy within the professional groups (Baukrowitz & Boes, 2000). Moreover, the jurisdictional fields for computer scientists, especially the field of application development, were not yet totally monopolised by any particular group because there was “no undisputed dominance of information technological knowledge” (Hartmann, 1995, p. 164). Thus to a large extent, the failure to restrict the jurisdictional fields of computer science is the reason for “the low professionalisation” of the sector (Rothenwald, 2001, p. 17). From a gender perspective, the first question that arises here is how women participate in this particular development of the IT professions. From a historical perspective, Kritzer points out that the so-called semi-professions (those without a recognized and institutionalised corpus of expertise) have been the main area of women’s paid work, while the professions have been male-dominated (Kritzer, 1999). Connected to this division of work, we can also observe a horizontal gender segregation of professions with implications for the inclusion/exclusion of men and women from certain professional areas irrespective of task attributes that correspond to stereotyping in male or female terms. In this sense, Witz (1990, p. 675) refers to “professionalisation projects.” Nevertheless, these projects also change over time. Gatta and Ross (2002) point out that changing societal expectations of men’s and women’s roles, changing skill mixes, declining discrimination, and reduced male resistance to women’s entry into work influences the increase of women’s presence in traditionally male occupations and also alters employers’ expectations. As we can see from historical discussions of computer science3, women have always been involved in computing and mathematics. Nevertheless, several authors have shown that women are concentrated in those IT occupation areas with the poorest employment conditions, whereas men are overrepresented in fields that are more valued, such as technical management, systems analysis, and programming (Ruiz Ben, 2003; Webster, 1996; Webster & Valenduc, 2003; Woodfield, 2000). The question arising here involves the extent to which the professionalisation process of IT occupations represents an opportunity for women to play an active role in the innovation paths of the information society, as well as the gendering or de-gendering practices linked to this process. Our aim in this chapter is to provide an overview of the scholarly literature in the social sciences on the debate about gender and professionalisation in IT fields and sort through the current discussion about the professionalisation of software development in Germany. We present evidence for the gender segregation in IT professions and discuss the key issues that have been addressed by the empirical literature.
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