Deliberate Leadership: Women in IT

Deliberate Leadership: Women in IT

Kristen Lamoreaux (SIM Women, USA) and Dibi Varghese (Stevens Institute of Technology, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61350-456-7.ch601
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For decades, societal influences, academic ennui, and corporate resistance to change have contributed toward the reduction of the number of women pursuing the computer science field. Technology innovations have enabled greater workplace flexibility, yet gender schemas and negative stereotypes remain. Human Resources organizations are pivotal in altering negative perceptions and reversing misconceptions. HR has low and no cost options available to them to greatly impact their work environment and subsequent female IT recruitment, development, and retention programs. Organizations that do not deliberately address the talent shortfall within Information Technology will clearly suffer recruitment, retention, and business performance consequences. While the focus of this chapter is women in IT, most of the discussion can also be applied to men.
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Societal Influence

At a macro level, a major social disadvantage is the development of products and services that do not include input from half the human population. This results in products and services that may not take into consideration the cognizant needs of half of the consumers in the world. The NCWIT reports that although women influence or control more than 83% of all consumer purchases, and approximately 66% percentage of home computer purchases, they are not involved in the creation of the many products they consume. They also report that spending data from 2003 indicated that women spent $55 billion on consumer electronics, this figure surpassing that of male spending. The lack of explicit inclusion of females in the development of the many of the goods they consume may result in low levels of consumer satisfaction.

Gender Expectations

Gender role expectations result in a boundary created by the social and cultural environment, and this frequently defines limits to women’s career choices (Lang, 2007 and Trauth et al., 2008). These gender role expectations are often based on stereotypes. Gender stereotypes define lower expectations for women in fields of technology, science and math, and that women are outsiders in the domain of IT. Gender role expectations define that men have a higher inclination towards technology or computers and goes even as far as stating that men are more competent when it comes to technology (Martin and Wardle, 1999 and Lemons and Parzinger, 2007). This has a negative effect on female self-efficacy levels, achievement and interest in the field.

Panteli et al. (1999) believe that it is the perception of IT being a male-gendered environment that makes the industry exceptionally unattractive to women. This perception is further upheld by the low levels of female representation at management levels of the IT organization. Cultures that do not perceive IT to be male dominated have higher numbers of female students pursuing IT related education. An example from Trauth et al.’s (2008) research is of Asian female students who receive encouragement from their family and society to pursue careers in IT. Another interesting point from their research was that communist or centrally planned societies were more supportive of females pursuing careers in any field, including IT. In comparison to capitalist western cultures, these societies had less stringent gender role expectations. As organizations expand their recruitment practices, HR groups will need to learn how IT is viewed within each culture.

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