Pathways into a Gendered Occupation: Brazilian Women in IT

Pathways into a Gendered Occupation: Brazilian Women in IT

Jamie Swim (University of Texas at Austin & National Center for Women and Information Technology, Austin, TX, USA) and Lecia Barker (University of Texas at Austin & National Center for Women and Information Technology, Austin, TX, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/ijsodit.2012100103
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Although São Paulo is the hub of a growing technology industry in Brazil, female participation in São Paulo’s male-dominated IT sector has decreased over recent decades. Reasons for this trend are complex and research on this topic in Brazil is limited. In an effort to learn about barriers to entry and retention for women in IT careers in Brazil 10 interviews were conducted in São Paulo with women working in information technology (IT) careers. Findings from this study include: 1) IT jobs are considered appropriate for some Brazilian women, but those women are sometimes regarded as abnormal, and technical programs and workplaces are mainly occupied by men, 2) Brazilian women feel constrained by the expectation that they be primary caretakers of domestic responsibilities, and 3) most upper-level leadership positions in IT are held by men. This study is an initial effort on which further research can expand.
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Women’s participation in IT careers isn’t the same in every country. Lagesen’s 2008 study on gender and computer science professionals in Malaysia says that, contrary to the situation in many other countries, female participation in computer science careers is quite high in Malaysia. In 2006 45 percent of bachelor-level CS students and 71 percent of IT bachelor’s students were female. Lagesen says in Malaysia technical careers are associated with characteristics desirable for female work, such as safety and continuity (2008). Othman and Rodziah (2006) report that most studies conducted in Europe and the United States find that young girls who are aware of the computer science field do not find CS careers attractive (p. 111). These studies encourage more international research on this topic for cultural comparison.

In Brazil, women make up 45 percent of the employed labor force (Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística, 2010), but their presence in the information technology (IT) sector is considerably smaller. A survey of three leading software development firms in Brazil in 1992 revealed that only 26 percent of employees involved in the development process were female (Gaio, 1995), and the number of women in this field has decreased to 20 percent in 2010 (Covic and Wainer). Simard’s literature review suggests that low female participation in this field is not an issue of access to education. Indeed, she reports that, while women make up more than 60 percent of all college graduates in Brazil and make up the majority in math, biology, and medicine, they represent less than five percent of students in university-level computer science (CS) programs in Brazil (2007). Organizations such as the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT), the American Association of University Women (AAUW), and the Anita Borg Institute investigate questions about women working in technical careers in the United States and suggest various explanations for female underrepresentation in technical jobs from educational access barriers to self-efficacy beliefs to social and unconscious institutional gender biases. However, research on this topic in Brazil is more limited. The few sources that provide numeric data on trends of employment by gender in Brazil suggest that women there are underrepresented in IT careers compared to other professions, similar to the situation in the U.S.; NCWIT reports that in the United States only 25 percent of computing jobs in 2009 were held by women (2010).

The present study informs the question: Given the observed low participation, what are the barriers to entry and retention for women in IT careers in Brazil? Interviews were conducted with 10 women in Brazil to learn about their experiences working in IT careers in São Paulo. This study is an initial or pilot step in expanding our knowledge about women in IT in Latin America.

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