Individual Context

Individual Context

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-5860-8.ch007
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The core principle derived from evaluation of the data is that the number of women in IT (or any career) is not a matter of the balance of societal forces, which we can push one way or another with the right lever. It comes down to the individual and her pursuit of happiness through her own values. This puts the individual at the core of the STEMcell Model. The influencing factors of philosophy, values, rights, assumptions, strength, self belief, interests, differences, ability, curiosity, creativity, and reality are explored in this chapter in that context. The centrality of individual choice does not mean there is nothing we can do about remaining barriers, but it does mean that empowering the individual (especially through the disruptive technologies of #SocialIT) and accepting their choices is the solution. The answer to collectivist prejudices about “women” is not collectivist actions that accept the same underlying assumption, but is instead recognising that the only differences that matter are individual ones. Contrary to beliefs that the low proportion of women in IT should be viewed through a gender or culture lens, the results and analyses in this book indicate that not only is innate interest the main driver of an IT career, but most women with that interest are perfectly capable of discovering it themselves. And that is why no single “solution” has been found, and why a wide variety of interventions have had no significant impact—because there is no generic solution to finding out “what women want”—individually.
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Happiness is that state of consciousness which proceeds from the achievement of one’s values. – Ayn Rand (1961)



The unfortunate conclusion from the years of intervention programs aimed at increasing the representation of women in IT courses and careers is that none of them have worked. There have been a few individual cases where it has made a difference, and often a short term burst in favourable thinking about IT among the participants. But none of this has produced a measurable increase.

Clearly the only way to increase the number of people pursuing a particular career is to increase the number of individuals choosing to do so. All the interventions in the world cannot achieve an increase if the individuals simply are more interested in other things. All the interventions in the world and all the progress in the world regarding women’s education and access to career choice have not achieved an increase. So perhaps we need to look more at the individual than at these external factors.

The impact of the individual has been examined in the literature by many researchers including Castano & Webster (2011), Ham, Junankar & Wells (2009), Trauth (2002) and Trauth, Huang & Quesenberry (2006). However to date it has been done from the perspective of the individual as just another societal factor. It has been under a gendered view where generally the individual is assumed to be entirely malleable, an almost blank slate absorbing cultural, social and structural influences without any free will of her own. The problem with that approach is it ignores the fundamental strength, philosophy, values and will of the individual. This is especially ironic when one thing that characterises girls interested in STEM is strong self-will and confidence (Modi, Schoenberg & Salmond, 2012).

Perhaps this is why no single “solution” has been found, and why a wide variety of solutions have had no significant impact – because there is no generic solution to finding out “what women want” – individually. What they want is what interests them, according to their individual circumstances, personalities and values.

It may appear to be an oversimplification to put the low number of women in IT down to the individual, when the individual makes her decisions in the context of the rest of her life experiences. But numerous results cited in earlier chapters indicate that most women who will be interested in fact already discovered their interest in their formative years. It is only a minority who discover it later in life through tasks assigned at work, and a much smaller minority who are influenced by interventions. That implies that the issue is not a large pool of women who would be interested “if only they knew.” Most of them already know.

Therefore my conclusion is that the number of women in IT, or any career, is not a matter of the balance of societal forces, which we can push one way or another with the right lever. It comes down to values, to the individual and their pursuit of happiness through their own values. It’s their choice and is highly internalised, having meaning for each individual.

That is why, in the STEMcell Model, the individual is the core and strongest element of the model. That individual core, that unique cell, may expand to an extent that it overrides and cracks the mantle of social and structural influences and the cultural crust. Figure 1 represents that individual core and outlines the factors involved.

Figure 1.

Individual factors influencing career choice


The Individual factors and influencers in Figure 1 are those I have identified and highlighted. The literature discusses a variety of factors and some overlap or point to these, such as life events, turning points, predispositions and interests. These elements are especially represented in the “Life Course” conceptual framework initially proposed by Xie & Shauman (2003). Whilst the life course concept was developed for describing women in science it is also applicable to women in technology, and it has been cited and further enhanced in the literature since, e.g. Adya & Kaiser (2005), Ashcraft, Eger & Friend (2012), Castano & Webster (2011), Ham, Junankar & Wells (2009) and Trauth, Quesenberry & Huang (2009). The life course framework is discussed in detail in Chapter Five: Popular Theories.

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