“Fixing” the Gender Divides in ICT Programs Within Universities

“Fixing” the Gender Divides in ICT Programs Within Universities

Mayela Coto (Universidad Nacional, Costa Rica) and Lone Dirckinck-Holmfeld (Department of Communication and Psychology, Aalborg University, Denmark)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-2819-8.ch009


Although information and communication technology (ICT) is a fast-growing sector, transforms societies radically, offers many job and career growth opportunities, and is higher paid, women are highly underrepresented in ICT-related programs. This study asks the following research questions: What is the rate of women's participation in different kinds of university IT programs? How can we approach the women participation in IT programs at the university level? The chapter presents two cases, namely, Universidad Nacional, Costa Rica and Aalborg University, Denmark. Although both countries occupy privileged positions in the Global Gender Gap Index, they also face challenges. Based on a thorough analysis of national and detailed IT program data from the cases, the chapter concludes that, to overcome the gender divide, radical and complex “fixing” of the organizations and IT programs is needed. The data support a mainstreaming strategy to ground the IT programs in a humanistic orientation and to promote diversity among staff, especially at the full professor level.
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As the world moves toward an increasingly digital economy, many countries face the lack of a sufficient number of qualified people to fill jobs in areas related to information and communication technology (ICT) (Nager & Atkinson, 2016), a situation that is intensified by the low representation of women in these industries. Increasing women’s participation in the ICT-related workforce would help close this gap; however, the proportion of women graduating in IT-related careers is declining in many parts of the world (Ashcraft,McLain, & Eger, 2016; Powell & Chang, 2016). Despite continuous progress, today, the world still has a long way to go toward gender equality, and women continue to face discrimination in access to work, economic assets, and participation in public and private decision making (Ki-Moon, 2015).

Increasing women’s participation in the ICT sector is important for several reasons. Specifically, increasing employment opportunities for women improves gender equality; empowering women benefits their communities and their offspring; and closing the gender gap in the IT work area helps to address the gap between the supply and demand of these types of jobs in today’s society (Powell & Chang, 2016).

Information technology (IT) is a fast-growing sector, offering many opportunities for job and professional growth, including a range of self-employment options. Jobs in this area are often better paid and have opportunities for advancement (Beckhusen, 2016). Improving the participation of women in the IT sector, in addition to helping to close gender gaps in employment and wages, promotes countries’ economic growth (Nager & Atkinson, 2016; Powell & Chang, 2016).

The gender imbalance in the IT sector starts with education, which in turn, influences the employment situation. Numerous studies have identified the low participation of women in computer and IT related careers and programs (Beyer, 2008; Katz, Allbritton, Aronis, Wilson, & Soffa, 2006; Kim, Fann, & Misa-Escalante, 2011; Mora-Rivera, Coto-Chotto, & Villalobos-Murillo, 2017; Paloheimo & Stenman, 2006; Vilner & Zur, 2006). It has been determined that multiple elements deter women from pursuing computer careers, including the image of computer science as a male domain, a lack of trust among female students despite their obvious skills, a lack of women teachers and role models, a culture that does not invite women to venture into computer science, and the importance of previous programming experience (Barker & Cohoon, 2015; Stoilescu & Egodawatte, 2010; Sullivan, Byrne, Bresnihan, O’Sullivan, & Tangney, 2015; Vitores & Gil-Juárez, 2016; Wilson, 2002). Research shows that there is no simple answer to the issue that women decide not to pursue ICT-related careers. The reasons seem to be linked to the nature of socially defined gender roles. With few exceptions, women are underrepresented at all levels in the ICT sector and IT programs.

Problem Formulation

Although ICT is a fast-growing sector; offers many job and career growth opportunities, including a range of self-employment options; and is higher paid and offers opportunities for advancement—and despite companies’ and agencies’ requests for more women in ICT careers—women are highly underrepresented in ICT-related careers and programs. In this chapter, we want to explore this phenomenon more closely, asking the following research questions:

  • What is the rate of women’s participation in different kinds of university ICT programs?

  • How can we approach the women participation in IT – programs at the university level?

To answer these questions, we employ two case studies—Universidad Nacional (UNA) in Costa Rica and Aalborg University (AAU) in Denmark.In the next section, we present the concepts and approaches, as well as the choice of cases, guiding our investigation.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Fixing the Women: Is an equality strategy approach viewing “women as the problem”. The perspective builds on a deficit model of why women do not measure up to career standards and demands in academia.

Global Development Indicators: It is a set of data and statistics that allow evaluating the development of most countries in the world.

Information and Communication Technology: ICT refers to technologies that provide access to information through telecommunications and that allow people and organizations to interact in the digital world.

Fixing the Organization: Is an equality strategy focusing on the change of the situation, the organization, the systems, the structures, and not least the appropriation and enactment of agency in all its complexity.

Transversal Intersectionality: Focusing on not only the cumulative or multiple inequalities (sex, racial and ethnic origin, disability, age, religion, and sexual orientation), but on the particular forms of combined inequalities.

IT Programs: An IT study program is characterized by qualifying students for the development and implementation of software and hardware applications and their interaction with people.

Gender Mainstreaming: Internationally acknowledged strategy and method focusing on the integration of gender and equality in public policies and on all levels

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