Author Note: This paper was written for EDG6226 Foundations of Research in Curriculum & Instruction during Fall 2014. This is the basis of my beginning thoughts about a dissertation research project.
There has been a lot of focus in education on increasing the number of girls and women in the STEM workforce. We have made 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). In 2012, women earned 57 percent of all bachelor’s degrees, yet they earned only 18 percent of computer and information science (CIS) bachelor’s degrees – down from 37 percent in 1985 (Ashcraft & Blithe, 2009). This pattern is also evidenced in the information technology (IT) industry, where women hold only 26 percent of professional computing jobs, while women make up 57 percent of the professional jobs in the 2013 US workforce. More alarmingly, 56% of women leave the IT workforce when they reach mid-level positions (Barker, Mancha, & Ashcraft, 2014). This is a concern not only for ensuring that women have equal representation in the technology industry, but also for the economic success of technology businesses. Research shows technology 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).
I have worked in the IT field for 28 years and have been a Professor in Information Technology at Santa Fe College (SF) since 1995. In my early days at Santa Fe, we had a program called BITCAP. The program was designed to help at risk women obtain technology skills so they could secure high paying jobs. The program provided participants with a cohort group, tutoring, laptops, internet access, transportation and childcare. In addition to general education courses, the women in this program completed a core one year program in IT. Many of these women would go on to complete a full degree program in IT. Because of this program we were able to maintain a good balance of gender diversity in our programs. I didn’t realize how unique we were at the time. When the BITCAP program ended, we saw the number of female students in our program drop, to the point that we currently we average only 9-18% female students in our classes. As the number of female students dropped, I’ve watched the culture in our courses change. The male students are more aggressive and tend to dominate classroom discussion. The female students are intimidated by their dominance, and don’t feel they have much to offer. I see this even in courses where the professor is female. What I’ve experienced in the IT program at SF, closely mimics what has been experienced at other colleges and universities and what is occurring in the IT field overall.
I am fortunate to already have a number of professional associations that will help me with my research. I am an active member in the NCWIT (National Council of Women in Technology) Academic Alliance and the Grace Hopper Celebration (Anita Borg Foundation) Faculty Track committee. The National Center for Women in Technology (NCWIT) is a research based organization whose mission is to ensure that women are fully represented in the influential world of computing. They emphasize full representation because diversity is about both numerical representation as well as women’s integration in ways that make female participation valuable for individuals, organizations and society (Technology, 2011). The Grace Hopper Celebration is the largest conference for Women in Technology in the world and provides a space where both academic researchers, students, professionals and employers can share research and best practices. My participation in these organizations allows me to work with respected research scientists who conduct research about recruitment and retention issues of women in technology fields and academic programs.
In addition, I am the P.I. on a National Science Foundation Advanced Technical Education grant which has as one of its main goals, to increase the gender diversity in IT programs at SF. As part of this initiative, I’ve participated in number of programs designed to help improve the recruitment and retention of women in technology including eWITS (Emerging Women in Technology), IWTTS (Institute for Women in Trades, Technology and Science), and FemTechNet. Through these associations I have been invited to participate in the development of two grant proposals, which if awarded, will allow us to conduct research about best practices and provide professional development resources for faculty.
For my research, I’d like to contribute to the body of research that will help move us forward to a place where our IT workforce more closely mimics both the gender and cultural diversity of our population as a whole. I have a number of questions that I would like to consider. Some of my questions and wonderings include:
- What is the status of current educational materials available for IT courses? Which ones reflect research based guidelines for ensuring gender neutral engagement practices, mitigate stereotype threat and provide supportive and gender diverse materials? How do we help faculty to better select educational materials and improve the retention of female students?
- How can we use computer aided collaborative environments to essentially “level the playing field” between female and male students? Can online collaborative environment allow female students to gain confidence in being successful in technology courses?
- How do we better communicate the problem of gender diversity, mitigate stereotypes and stereotype threat, and help people to see where their own biases exist, particularly in the case of the “not I” vs. “others” paradigm.
- What is happening at the mid-career level with women in IT, and why are so many of them exiting the field for other employment? Is there any difference between women working in industry as compared to those working in academic settings?
I am interested in mixed methods design. I feel like there is power in showing numbers and quantitative data, but the quantitative data cannot tell the real story behind the numbers. To tell the story of individual experiences we need to use a qualitative approach. As 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).”
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.
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? 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.
Technology, N. C. f. W. i. (2011). Promising Practices Catalog. (05102011).
 U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2013 (Occupational Category: 15-0000)