New Research Aims to Keep Women in the IT Field
A recent study done by Baylor professor Dr. Cindy Riemenschneider is cracking some codes on why women are fleeing rewarding IT jobs – and what needs to change in the industry so they’ll stay.
Dr. Cindy Riemenschneider is a professor of information systems at Baylor University. She says she’s been researching women in the information technology field for about 15 years.
"One of the interesting things about the IT profession is it has historically been a male dominated profession," said Riemenschneider.
Riemenschneider says studies show women are significantly underrepresented in the field. And it hasn’t gotten better with time. Since 1985 the amount of women who’ve graduated with degrees in computer and information science has dropped from 37-percent – to only 18-percent in 2011.
Dr. Riemenschneider says having more women in computer and information science fields would bring more diversity to companies and organizations.
"And we know that when we bring diversity to an organization or business that allows for there to be a different flow of creativity and ideas," said Riemenschneider. "And in the long term the businesss would benefit."
This particular study done by Riemenschneider and her colleague Dr. Deborah Armstrong at Florida State University – adds to a 12-year-old research model they believed contained popular assumptions without any thorough testing. So Armstrong and Riemenschneider surveyed IT professionals at a Fortune 500 company over a period of three years. The survey took a look at mentoring, as well as social interaction and career-stage awareness.
"It's not like they can have that many mentors that would be female," said Riemenschneider. "In a male dominated field the number of women at high positions is limited."
Riemenschneider says office culture where men talk more about sports or the men's office softball team can isolate a female employee. And companies not taking into consideration the various career and life stages of an employee such as raising children and elder care can create barriers.
"So they have responsibilities for elderly members of the family that might inhibit them from being able to work a lot of overtime hours."
At Texas State Technical College – Jennifer Gauntt is a computer networking systems and administrations instructor. She says the IT field can be demanding.
"In the past I've worked for companies where I was on call and slept with the phone beside my bed," said Gauntt. "It's just wherever you are and something happens, you have to work."
That hasn’t deterred Gauntt from having a successful career in IT. But she says at TSTC there are more men in her classes compared to women and more males at the college overall.
She says she doesn’t understand why more women don’t pursue the career.
"There's no such thing that says pink is girls and blue is boys. There's nothing that says IT is men and not woman," said Gauntt. "It's just the barrier society has put there."
Dr. Riemenschneider says the geeky stigma that comes with the technology field also needs to be reversed.
She says it’s important to reach women when they’re in middle and high school. This will help young girls realize the opportunities that exist in IT at an earlier age – and help them realize that the field might be more rewarding than they would envision.