Young Women and Persistence in Information Technology
Tiffany Barnes (University of North Carolina at Charlotte, USA), Sarah Berenson (North Carolina State University, USA) and Mladen A. Vouk (North Carolina State University, USA)
Copyright: © 2006
The underrepresentation of women in science, technology, and engineering careers is of growing national concern (Vesgo, 2005; National Academy of Engineering, 2002; National Science Foundation, 2004; National Research Council, 2001). While the information technology (IT) workforce appears to be becoming more diverse in terms of race and country of birth, it is becoming less diverse in terms of gender (AAUW, 2000; Malcom, Babco, Teich, Jesse, Campbell, & Bell, 2005; NSF, 2004; Vesgo, 2005). This trend is of particular concern, since women may face unequal access to rewarding IT careers, while society and the IT workforce suffer without the valuable contributions that women might make through the creation of new information technologies (Cohoon, 2005; Freeman & Cuny, 2005). Past studies have highlighted a tendency of talented young girls to enroll in less rigorous mathematics courses beginning in the middle grades (e.g., Kerr, 1997) and have hypothesized that this lack of preparation creates a barrier to science, technology, and engineering disciplines. In response to the increased under-representation of women in IT, Girls on Track (Got), a year round enrichment program and summer camp, was created in 1998 to encourage talented middle school girls to persist in taking college-bound courses in math, science, and computer science through high school. It was our conjecture that some of these well-prepared girls would later become creative future IT workers. We have undertaken a longitudinal study of approximately 200 girls who were enrolled in the NSF funded 1999-2001 Girls on Track program, with the goal of creating a model of persistence of these young women into IT careers. This study is now in its seventh year. In this article, we present our somewhat surprising findings. It would appear that talented young women, though prepared and able, are not choosing to pursue IT careers. We suggest some ways the thinking about IT may need to change to encourage broader career-level participation.