Recruiting Women to Information Technology across Cultures and Continents
Carla, a sophomore in high school, can’t remember when she first used a computer; there was always one at home and at school to use. She enjoys using the computer to communicate with her friends, find information for schoolwork, and play games. She doesn’t think computers are just for boys and doesn’t think of herself as a “nerd.” Her mom says that Carla is the member of the family they call on to “fix the computer” when something goes wrong. Carla’s mom thinks it’s important for Carla to have a good career. When asked about career plans, both Carla and her mom think she should go into the same business as her father and brother—they are bill collectors.
Why would a young woman who has the interest and ability to use computers not think about pursuing a computer-based career, such as one in information technology (IT)? What was missing from the advice she was getting that resulted in her not seeking out more information about IT careers? When we began contemplating these questions, we wondered if girls who consider careers that are not traditional for women face different developmental demands as they process conflicting information, wrestle with stereotypes, and, at times, encounter negative feedback. We further wondered how girls’ interests vary across cultures and regions. As we rethink these questions in light of new scholarship that specifically targets the career decision-making processes, areas of future research are uncovered and practical implications appear.
In the process of uncovering research about the factors that influence and support IT career choices for women, we found some interesting cultural differences in girls’ perceptions of career paths open to them.
Women’s Interest in IT: The Fun Factor
When women IT majors were compared to women majoring in other fields, some interesting distinctions appeared. For example, women IT majors were less likely to be concerned with fun and more likely to consider achievement or income as important to a future career choice (Figure 2). We asked students to indicate their chosen major and a typical job which might be available to them after graduation. Then they were asked to select adjectives from a list that might apply to that future job. For comparison, the students also selected adjectives for an IT job that they were familiar with. We compared the adjectives selected for a student’s expected future job with those selected for an IT job with which the student was most familiar.
Both men and women selected words such as “exciting,” “interesting,” and “fun” to describe their own career. However:
women were more likely to choose words such as “influential” and “socially important” for their future jobs,
many men chose words like “predictable” and “risky” for their own career options.
When students indicated that a fun and interesting job was important to them:
females were less likely to pick words such as “complex” and “difficult” for their future jobs
males were more likely to pick words such as “complex” and “difficult” for their future jobs.
Figure 2. Women IT majors less concerned with fun, more concerned with challenge.
Research authors, Bettina Bair and Miranda Marcus
Material excerpted from
Reconfiguring the Firewall: Recruiting Women to Information Technology across Cultures and Continents
Edited by Carol J. Burger, Elizabeth G. Creamer, and Peggy S. Meszaros
A K Peters, Ltd., 2007; ISBN: 978-1-56881-314-1; (To Purchase)