Programs: Special Projects
Climbing the Technical Ladder: Obstacles and Solutions for Mid-Level Women in Information Technology
As part of the Anita Borg Institute’s goal to increase the number and influence of technical women, the Anita Borg Institute, in collaboration with the National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT), is partnering with the Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford University on a groundbreaking study about the barriers and facilitators of technical women’s advancement in industry.
Silicon Valley has captured the national imagination as a place where innovative thinking leads to valuable new technologies and products. Yet when it comes to providing opportunities for women, reports suggest that high-tech firms lag sharply behind those in other sectors. The overall percentage of women in the IT workforce is on the decline, from 41 percent in 1996 to 32 percent in 2004. Women in technical leadership positions are even scarcer, comprising only one-fifth of science and engineering managers. In addition, recent statistics show that women constitute a modest 9 percent of the Boards of Directors at high-tech Fortune 500 companies, as compared to 12.4 percent among all Fortune 500 companies.
Mid-career is a critical point for both women on the technical ladder and the high-tech firms in which they are employed. Women face the greatest barriers to advancement at mid-career, a point when the loss of their technical talent is most costly to an organization. The Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford University and the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology (with the National Center for Women and Information Technology) propose a study of women scientists and engineers in Silicon Valley IT firms at mid-career. The study is designed to help companies better understand technical women’s career opportunities and constraints in the IT industry. Our research team will examine key barriers faced by technical women at mid-career, and identify specific practices and policies that promote career advancement.
Our study seeks to answer five key questions:
- How do women advance up the technical leadership ladder?
- What are the key career decision-making issues for women at the mid-career?
- What are the main structural obstacles to their advancement?
- How do structural and cultural characteristics of the high-tech workforce contribute to women’s decisions to leave their jobs?
- What successful strategies increase the retention of technical women within a particular company?
- Review current practices, policies, and programs designed to promote career development for technical employees
- Develop, pilot, and administer survey to technical employees
- Develop, pilot, and conduct interviews
- Develop a customized report of findings for participating organizations
This research project will identify and benchmark measures of women’s progress in IT firms, highlight best organizational practices, and explore new promising strategies for the retention and advancement of technical women. The research will provide company executives with scientifically sound, data-driven insight to make informed decisions on the best organizational practices, programs, and policies to bolster the retention and recruitment of their technical talent, a key to maintaining a competitive edge in the global economy. In addition, study findings will be made publicly available (at the aggregate level and anonymously) in order to strengthen the industry’s ability as a whole to recruit and retain women. Any specific findings concerning company programs, workforce size, interviews, and surveys will be held confidential.
Clayman Institute, Stanford University
Professor Londa Schiebinger
Barbara D. Finberg Director
Dr. Andrea Henderson, Research Director
Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology
Dr. Telle Whitney, President & CEO
Dr. Caroline Simard, Director of Research
Faculty Research Advisory Panel:
- Debra Meyerson, Associate Professor of Education and, by courtesy, Graduate School of Business, Stanford University
- Sheri Sheppard, Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering, Stanford University
Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology’s work with the National Center for Women and Information Technology is supported by National Science Foundation Grant No. 0413538.