Practitioners, researchers, and policy makers alike are puzzled by the continued intransigence to the integration of women to undergraduate and graduate majors, as well as occupation, in fields like engineering and information technology (IT). While strong advances in the direction of gender equity have been made in the last two decades in fields like biology and mathematics and in the professional fields of medicine and law, women only still represent about 20% of the undergraduate enrollments in engineering and computer science (NSF, 2000). This gender gap persists persist despite the near evaporation of evidence of gender differences in performance in these fields, such as in the dramatic narrowing of gender differences in the high school course taking patterns, including in advance placement courses (Clewell & Campbell, 2002). Gender differences in the enrollment in computer-related courses and out-of-class, informal programs in science and engineering persist, however (Volman & van Eck, 2001). Academics have used several major groups of theories to try to understand the reasons for women’s under-representation in IT and engineering. Social psychological theories are one of four major groupings of theoretical frameworks identified by Clewell and Campbell (2002). As compared to perspectives that seek biological or cognitive explanations for women’s disinclination to pursue careers in some fields, social-psychological theorists consider environmental, social, and attitudinal influences. Factors such as teachers’ and advisors’ attitudes and beliefs, pedagogical practices in the way math and sciences courses are taught, and the influence of parents and the media are some of the factors considered by social-psychological theorists (Clewell & Campbell, 2002). The research described in this entry belongs to the group of social-psychological theories that look to environmental, rather than individual, explanation for women’s underrepresentation in certain fields in science and engineering, including information technology. It considers the role of parents and the role of interactions with teachers, counselors, and important others in interest in a career in information technology.
Career choice is often approached as if it were entirely a rational process whose outcome can be predicted by simply understanding an individual’s abilities, attitudes, and interests. Researchers with a less individualistic perspective, however, point out that individual qualities are far less predictive of women’s career choices than they are of men’s (O’Brien & Fassinger, 1993) and that a number of social and cultural factors are required to understand the types of environments that promote women’s interest in sex atypical careers, including IT (Blum, Frieze, Hazzon, & Dias, 2007). This fits with other research that documents that women continue to enter the IT field through nontraditional venues. Rather than taking a more direct route through an IT-related major in college, women often enter positions in IT as a result of propitious exposure or opportunity (Turner, Brent, & Percora, 2002). This is why some authors prefer to refer to “pathways” rather than to continue to utilize the “pipeline metaphor” as a way to capture the various career paths women follow prior to entering IT in a professional capacity (Leventmen, 2007).
Key Terms in this Chapter
Mixed Methods Research: Involves the analysis of both quantitative and qualitative data in a single study and the integration of findings at one or more stages in the process of research ( Creswell et al., 2003 ).
IT Career Interest and Choice: The dependent variable in our statistical model that identifies the characteristics of respondents who express either an interest in a career in IT or who have already made a choice to pursue a career in IT.
Sources of Career Information: A set of questionnaire items in the Career Decision Making Survey where respondents indicated how often they had discussed career options and plans with ten groups of people: mother, father, teacher or professor, counselor or advisor, other family members, male friends, female friends, spouse or significant other, employer or boss, and family friends.
Social-Psychological Theorists: Theories that consider environmental and social influences on career interests, including such factors as parents’ attitudes, teachers’ and advisors’ attitudes and beliefs, and experiences and interactions in- and out-of-the-classroom.
Direct Effect: In a statistical model, a variable that impacts the dependent variable, or the variable being predicted in a direct and statistically significant way.
Information Technology: Refers to a variety of jobs that involve the development, installation, and implementation of computer systems and applications. Careers in IT encompass occupations that require designing and developing software and hardware systems, providing technical support for computer and peripheral systems, and creating and managing network systems and databases.
Information Processing: Relates to student’s self-reports about (1) how much they know about job options within IT, (2) what information sources about IT they consider credible, and (3) how often they have interacted with others about career options.
Parental Support: In the statistical model presented in this entry, parental support was calculated from nine questionnaire items relating to the respondent’s perceptions that her parents support the importance of a career and encourage career exploration, as well as agreement with the statement that parents have an idea about what would be an appropriate career choice.