Women as Chief Information Officers in Higher Education: A mixed methods study of women executive role attainment in information technology organizations by Elizabeth Ann Clark.

Women make up 57 percent of the professional occupations in the 2013 US workforce, but hold only 26 percent of professional computing occupations (US DOL, 2013) , and only 9 percent of Chief Information Officers (CIO) positions (Boardroom Insiders, 2012). In 2012, women earned 57 percent of all bachelor’s degrees, yet they earned only 18 percent of computer and information science bachelor’s degrees – down from 37 percent in 1985 (Ashcraft & Blithe, 2009). There has been a lot of focus in education on increasing the number of girls and women in the STEM workforce. We have made some progress in Science, Engineering, and in Math, but we continue to see a decline in the number of female students entering technology fields (Ashcraft, Eger, & Friend, 2012), and more alarmingly we are seeing 56% of women leave the IT workforce when they reach mid-level positions (Barker, Mancha, & Ashcraft, 2014).

Summary of Dissertation

Women as chief information officers in higher education: A mixed methods study of women executive role attainment in information technology organizations by Elizabeth Ann Clark (2013), looks at women’s participation in Chief Information Officer (CIO) roles in higher education. Women’s participation in Information Technology (IT) is extremely low and this holds true for women in CIO positions. However, in higher education the data show that women attain the CIO position at much better rates (21-26%) than their corporate counterparts (9%) (Clark, 2014). This study uses a mixed methods design to compare 38 female and 150 male higher education CIOs across a variety of characteristics. In addition, nine women participated in a semi-structured qualitative interview designed to gain a deeper understanding of the culture and attitudes they faced in attaining and becoming successful in the CIO role.

Theoretical Perspective

The theoretical perspective used in this dissertation is one that incorporates a social structural perspective on gender and inequality. Clark (2013) looks at the influence that a gendered industry has on the way women experience the work environment in IT and how they navigate the process of cultivating a successful career in an industry that is a predominately a “white male” industry. Her basis for this lens is that of generic structural theory applied to gender. This is a perspective in which gender is defined as a social construct which influences the social nature of organizations. If organizations are social by nature, then they can adopt the characteristics of gender. Since IT has its historical beginning in a time where men dominated the workplace, Clark theorizes that IT took on masculine gender characteristics.

Research Questions

For the quantitative phase of the study, there were two guiding research questions, and eight sub-questions. The two guiding research question are:

  • What individual and organizational factors describe higher education CIOs and their work environments, and how do they differ for women and men?
  • What specific cultural factors identified throughout the glass ceiling literature exist in higher education IT, and how do women and men’s experiences within the culture of IT in higher education differ?

For the qualitative phase of the study, the guiding research question was:

  • How do women CIOs in higher education IT explain the organizational-level factors that have contributed to their ability to attain the CIO positions?

Research Design

This is a mixed methods design beginning with a quantitative questionnaire administered to higher education CIOs, followed by a qualitative interview with nine female higher education CIOs. Clark states, “The quantitative findings helped to build general explanations for relationships between variables, and the qualitative data supported a deeper understanding of the statistical results (“Your Emerging Theory/Philosopy of Teaching and Learning,”)(2013, p. 109).” The target population were CIOs in EDUCAUSE member organizations. EDUCAUSE is a nonprofit membership organization that works to advance higher education by promoting the intelligent use of technology. Since its membership already includes most of the higher education institutions in the United States it was a unique resource for this study.


Data collection for the quantitative phase consisted of a 75-item self-developed questionnaire. The questionnaire was organized into five distinct sections: demographic and career pathway information, workplace norms and climate, managing life outside of work, hiring and promotion practices, and role models and mentors. Clark used a variety of statistical analysis to compare the responses from the women and men in the sample.

Data collection for the qualitative phase consisted of an in-depth, semi-structured interview with nine of the women CIO’s who participated in the quantitative phase of the study. The subjects were purposely sampled based on findings in the quantitative portion of the study. They were selected based on particular findings of interest and to ensure a demographic diversity in the sample. The interview consisted of fifteen open-ended questions, with interviews lasting an average of 60 minutes.

Findings and Discussion

The demographic and career pathway data showed very little difference between men and women in their prior work experiences or educational preparation. The women had been in their jobs as CIO and worked for their institutions slightly longer than their male counterparts and cited working longer hours and being less likely to take advantage of flexible work schedules. Women were less likely to have children then the men, but reported an average of 5.96 hours more per week on household and family support activities and were more likely to hire external help for house cleaning and child care. There was not a statistically significant difference in salary. However, the mean salaries for women were almost $14,000 less than the mean salary for men.

Clark’s findings were not significantly different than the findings of other IT industry studies. While the difference in women’s salaries is not statistically significant, the fact that they averaged $14,000 less than men, for women who had equivalent academic and industry preparation, had a longer tenure and worked longer hours, shows there is a need to further to understand this difference. Clark also found that some women cited unfair hiring and salary negotiation practices. She also noted that 4 of the 9 women attained their positions because their bosses either retired, fell ill, or left suddenly. Giving them the opportunity to show they could do the job. The women that did not cite unfair hiring practices, indicated their institutions had rigorous human resources policies and effective hiring practices. They also indicated there were successful female executives in their organization that served as role models.


Overall, I enjoyed reading Elizabeth Clark’s dissertation. I enjoyed the mixed methods approach as I feel she was able to gain a better understanding of the questions she was evaluating by having both the quantitative data and the qualitative insights into the women’s experiences. There are still many questions to be answered, and Clark raised some of them in her discussion.

In order for us to be successful in recruiting and retaining more women in IT, both in academia and in industry, we are going to need to find some way to begin shifting the gendered culture into a more equitable culture that supports a diversity of professionals. Research shows IT organizations that have more gender diversity perform better financially, have more productive teams that stay on schedule and under budget, and demonstrate improved employee performance (Barker et al., 2014). What is promising, is the women in Clark’s qualitative study who cited having a strong female role model in a leadership position encouraged them to continue to advance in their careers. This seems to confirm Sheryl Sandberg’s recommendation to lean in, and take our place at the table (Sandberg, 2013).

How do we begin to shift the IT culture to be more conducive to gender diversity? What further study needs to be done to help us understand how to make these changes? Clark recommended a qualitative study to look at how men’s attitudes and perceptions compare to those of women in similar roles. She also recommended looking at mid-level professionals to see if the same findings hold for professionals in mid-career. We need more understanding of how mentoring, and women in leadership roles help to shape the culture of an organizations, and encourage more mid-career professionals to stay in the field. Overall, more study is needed to better understand how to make changes that will be effective in shifting the culture of an entire IT industry.


Ashcraft, C., & Blithe, S. (2009). Women in IT: The facts. National Center for Women in Information.
Ashcraft, C., Eger, E., & Friend, M. (2012). Girls in iT: the facts. National Center for Women & IT. Boulder, CO.
Barker, L., Mancha, C., & Ashcraft, C. (2014). What is the impact of gender diversity on technology business performance? : NCWIT.
Clark, E. A. (2013). Women as Chief Information Officers in higher education: A mixed methods study of women executive role attainment in information technology organizations. Boston College.
Clark, E. A. (2014). Women in IT leadership: Forging new paths forward. Paper presented at the EDUCAUSE, Orlando, Florida.
Sandberg, S. (2013). Lean In: Women, work and the will to lead. New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf.
U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2013 (Occupational Category: 15-0000), Boardroom Insiders, 2012 Retrieved