Participation of Women in Information Technology
Tiffany Barnes (University of North Carolina at Charlotte, USA), Sarah Berenson (North Carolina State University, USA) and Mladen Vouk (North Carolina State University, USA)
Copyright: © 2006
Our nation’s continued global competitiveness is widely believed to depend upon the United States maintaining its leadership in the development and management of new information technologies (Freeman & Aspray, 1999; Malcom, Babco, Teich, Jesse, Campbell, & Bell, 2005; Sargent, 2004). Rapidly changing technologies have pervaded every sector of American society, infusing nearly everyone’s work and personal lives. Over the long term, we may face a shortage of highly educated IT workers who are needed to maintain and increase the economic productivity of the United States. Interestingly, according to Freeman and Aspray, if women were represented in the IT workforce in equal proportion to men (assuming the percentage of men in IT vis-à-vis other professions remained constant), this impending shortage and its potentially economically devastating consequences could be prevented. We identify the pipeline of potential female IT workers as beginning in the middle grades, with the girls who take college-prep algebra by the eighth grade and elect college-bound courses in math, science, and computer science through high school. These girls are then prepared to complete a bachelor of science degree in computer science, computer engineering, or electrical engineering and become creative future IT workers. In this article, we examine some of the factors that, as suggested by the literature, influence the low participation of women in IT. We also discuss the open research issues in understanding and modeling the (educational) persistence of young women in IT-related disciplines, and we outline some results from Girls on Track, an intervention program for middle-school girls. We end with some suggestions for making IT more appealing to this currently underrepresented population.