Support Structures for Women in Information Technology Careers

Support Structures for Women in Information Technology Careers

Ruth A. Guthrie (California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, USA), Louise Soe (California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, USA) and Elaine K. Yakura (Michigan State University, USA)
Copyright: © 2011 |Pages: 15
DOI: 10.4018/jep.2011010103
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This paper examines issues of support for women with Information Technology (IT) careers. Data was collected from interviews with 38 women, which lasted about 90 minutes. Questions were open-ended regarding aspects of their careers and career paths. The women represented a wide variety of experience and nine different industry sectors and at varying organizational levels. Research on the lack of women in STEM disciplines focuses mainly on undergraduate education and attracting women to STEM disciplines, focusing on “filling the pipeline.” This paper examines what it takes to have a successful, satisfying career, highlighting areas of support for women that may influence their success in IT careers.
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Thirty-eight women with IT careers in Southern California were interviewed in this qualitative study. A qualitative approach was used because issues related to careers of women professionals in IT appear to stem from a variety of complex causes. Allowing these women to describe their experiences to us, without prompting, and in their own words, was a means for uncovering a variety of different phenomena. Collecting oral histories as primary documents of women’s experience at work gave us insight into the complex issues of the IT workplace that today remain a significant obstacle.

The initial list of women contacts were graduates of the Computer Information Systems and graduate business programs at Cal Poly Pomona University. Using a snowballing technique (Berg, 2001), other interviewees from local companies, professional organizations, and LinkedIn were contacted. Women from “extreme” cases (in career longevity, age, organizational level) as well as “typical cases” were selected to achieve “maximal variation in the sample” (Flick, 1998). The resulting sample represents different cultures, different levels in their organizations and different industries (see Table 1).

Table 1.
Women in IT sample group demographics
Industry Engineering – 20%
Financial – 15%
Big 4 or Management Consulting – 13%
Education – 10%
Entertainment – 8%
Health – 8%
IT Products/Services – 3%
Insurance – 3%
Other – 20%
EducationBA/BS – 55%MS – 37%PhD. – 5%No Degree – 3%
Organizational levels:
Professional – 42%
Managerial – 47%
Other – 10%
EthnicityCaucasian – 55%Asian/Pacific Islander/East Indian – 32%Hispanic – 13%OtherAverage Age – 38yrsUS Citizen – 75%Women with children – 54%
Women with dependents of any kind – 61%

The interviews were open ended, lasting from 60 to 90 minutes. After completing a form advising them of confidentiality precautions taken in this research, the women were asked to reflect about several different aspects of their careers. In this paper, their views of themes of barriers and enhancers to their careers are reported along with the types of support they received from, firms and mentors. Interviews were recorded and then transcribed and coded, using the qualitative data analysis software Atlas-ti 5.0. Coding was done using top-down and bottom-up (in-vivo) coding (Lewins & Silver, 2007). Top-down codes reflected research assumptions covering issues such as cultural references at the societal, occupational, organizational, and workgroup levels, and other recommendations for improving the status of women in IT, such as mentoring and networking. The bottom-up coding looked for recurring themes that evolved during the study. For example, a surprising number of capable women ascribed their success to “luck” and “good fortune.” We also used a grounded approach (Strauss & Corbin, 1990), using in-vivo coding to identify positive and negative quotations about the same topic, and identify other issues that emerged from the data.



Several themes emerged during the interviews. Women shared personal and work experiences, and talked about characteristics in themselves and the profession that made them successful. We are focusing in this paper on cultural barriers in organizations and the IT occupation, as well as elements that mitigated those barriers for these successful women, such as mentoring, workload and other firm-provided special accommodations for women.

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