Underrepresentation of Women in the Information Technology Sector

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Abstract

The current age of technology is growing very fast and requires the participation of both male and female genders. Because of some challenges and barriers, the participation of women in the IT sector has remained low from the beginning and keeps declining for the last two decades. The main aim of this study was to review the existing literature on underrepresentation of women in the IT sector. To accomplish this task, the author carried out a review of research articles to answer the main question of this paper. The researcher has reviewed limited but recently published research articles. This research study showed that men have dominated the IT jobs in the IT sector and women encountered several issues for which they have left IT jobs. However, the widely examined issues and barriers to women’s IT jobs are gender matter, experiencing a low status and cultural norms. Hence, the author suggested few recommendation to overcome this under-representation of women’s employment in the IT sector.

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Underrepresentation of Women in the Information Technology Sector

In the current era of technology, computing profession has been growing very faster than other professions such as engineering, science, and math fields. In a report of the US Labor Department, it has been pointed out that new computing jobs opening from 2010 to 2020 will be about 1.3 million in the United States (Chen, Mora, & Kemis, 2017).  To satisfy this increased number of new computing jobs, the preparation of well-suited and educated candidates are required. However, the number of graduates majoring in computing and information technology is less than the number of required candidates. Therefore, it has become imperative to recruit new candidates in information technology in order to retain more candidates which have been underrepresented previously in the field of Information Technology. Women have been the underrepresented gender in IT studies and IT jobs for many years. Although women’s participation has been highlighted in the literature for college education and IT jobs, women remain underrepresented in computer science and IT majors in the context of Jobs. The main purpose of this paper is to review the research articles on the under-representation of women in the IT sector. What are challenges and barriers which women encounter while they work in the IT sector?

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Causes of Women’s Underrepresentation in the IT sector

There are several extensive reasons, which are mentioned in the literature, why women have been underrepresented globally in the IT sector. Computing and IT in all their various forms have remained the fastest growing research and development sector since last three decades throughout the world. However, women with the high qualification are still unable to move in the IT jobs, and IT industry has failed to attract the talent of women gender. It has been also observed that some of the women employed in the IT sector are leaving their jobs. In a research work, Hasan Al Marzouqi, and Forster (2011) provided the statistics on women who left their jobs before they reached the leadership positions. And more than 50% women leave their jobs employed in the IT sector. The maximum number of women employed in IT sector reached to 36% in 1991 and afterwards, it declined to 24% in 2008. These statistics have been provided by other researchers in the research study (Al Marzouqi & Forster, 2011). Schafer and Thierry (2015) provided various reasons for women leaving the IT and computing jobs. It is also observed that trend of increasing the women’s participation has been followed by the reversal which is known as the unprecedented event in the history.

In this paper, the author uses the IT and computing terms interchangeably. Although, the field of IT seems to be ‘women-friendly’ but it lost a number of female members for the last two decades. This phenomenon is worrying for all and requires for exploring the causes. In turn, the general public does not discover the little-known history that has disrupted the historical canon and created differences in two genders by carving out the places only for men and consigned the women to the oblivion. Role of women in IT has been demonstrated by the various sources. For example, in the ‘The Bletchley Circle’ women are depicted as an important figure during the Second World War, as they contributed to counterintelligence process in computer center of British. There are various examples in which women demonstrated the key role as the talented cryptanalysts. These trends have been also demonstrated through social networks. Kathleen Tuits took initiative for the success of “Twitter hashtag Feminist Hacker Barbie”. Although the website developed by this Kathleen has been widely used unethically for downloading the complete books to express her humor and anger developed in the books. Through the above-given example, historians have been echoed as they make efforts for reversing the under-representation of women, as well as, recent divisibility of women without compensating them and a number of historians have warned against (Schafer & Thierry, 2015).

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Mononen and Halonen (2017), too, presented some of the reasons behind under-representation of women regarding the employment in the IT sector. They have explored the objectives of their research study by stating the reasons of under-representation of women in the IT sector of Nordic countries. Moreover, they also pointed out that number of female were employed in ICT manufacturing sector as compared to ICT service sector. However, overall the women employment rate is lower in the service sector than the rate of women employment in the manufacturing sector. The scenario of under-representation of women in the US has been also mentioned in the same study. The individual differences between two genders matter; hence, management should revise employment strategies after understanding the differences and take actions to benefit the society. A new trend has been also observed in the lateral study that education and disability have affected the women’s employment in the IT sector.

Gender imbalance in the related fields of IT has remained within the context of status job and female participation in the IT sector. For example, ‘management information system’ MIS is closely related to IT field and under-representation of women have been observed in terms of job applications. Only 16% women have been reported with their IT jobs’ applications in MIS in the UK through IT websites. However, women have more opportunities in IT jobs but they are less engaged in IT service sector jobs. As society is becoming more based on IT, women are at the disadvantage as they continue to keep themselves under-represented in IT careers. Moreover, it has been found that women experience the low status while they work in technology workplaces. Some of the women utilize the social connections with their colleagues of both genders to enable themselves to override the low stereotype status. However, recent studies have provided findings that all women do not succeed in order to overcome vulnerabilities which are gender-based in their workplaces. In lines with the findings of many recently published articles, Kleist (2011) also found that women with the high status and good social relations are still incapable and incomparable men in terms of interviews for jobs.

Oleksy, Just, and Zapedowska-Kling (2012) highlighted gender issues such as ethics regarding the IT sector. Gender ethics means in terms of theory which is linked and embedded to feminism. Women other than employment are also underrepresented for scholarships. The feministic scholarship and traditional ethics have ignored the gender with the moral experience women have and focus on the ethical reasoning. Gender ethics is two-fold; firstly, it emphasizes on criticizing those policies and actions which perpetuate the oppression of women and secondly, non-sexist practices with the various forms must be engendered.

In some countries, cultural norms have dictations to segregate the genders from workplaces. One of the countries with the same norms and culture in Saudi Arabia where only 22% women have their participation in workplaces. However, this trend of unemployment is less common in the private sector. In various other countries with the similar culture and norms, it is expected that technology use is vital for facilitating the communication across the segregated workplaces. It enables the women to demonstrate the equal participation in their future careers.

Important Observations and Recommendation

The following observations made upon the literature review have been presented with a list of recommendations to avert the underrepresentation situation of women’s jobs in the IT sector.

  1. By the above discussion, the author of this paper makes some observations. Gendered inequality has been found in power in reference to women’s jobs in the IT sector. Therefore, it is true to point that gender representation in the existing literature is much focused and requires solid actions to reverse the under-representation of women for IT jobs and retaining the IT jobs.
  2. Women considerably have become absent in the IT sector; it is, therefore, recommended to engage more students in the field of computer science at school, college, and university levels. Ultimately, increase in the number of computer science graduates will require more IT jobs that will result in reversing the fast decline from women in IT jobs.
  3. In order to overcome the under-representation of women in IT sector, women-specific issues need to be highlighted and also identified the ways to remove the identified hurdles which prohibit the women for doing IT jobs.
  4. There is lack of research on the issues women encounter while they want to work in the IT-enabled environment. Therefore, researchers should conduct a number of case studies in the context of regions which have related cultural norms which resist the women to work in the IT sector.
  5. Some of the regions in the world are insufficient with the high-quality tools and equipment, which can increase the interaction of men and women via emails and phones. But norms of the culture of respective countries in the region do not allow the deeper collaboration between men and women for a long term. Therefore, employment issues resulting from gender segregation can be mitigated by employing the technologies. (US Fed News Service 2017)
  6. Women’s interest should be taken into consideration. In addition, several issues which resist or force the women to leave IT jobs must be considered and evaluated ethically. Some of these issues include rape, harassment, feminist representation, pornography, and self-presentation. Besides, the moral autonomy and rationality of women should be also recognized. In the context of women autonomy, it should be achieved within social and materialist preconditions rather it should not be only given.
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Based on the above discussion, it has become mandatory for researchers to investigate the issues concerning gender and information technology. It has been argued that the IT sector should leverage and value all types of diversity, particularly gender diversity. By leveraging gender diversity, the female gender is facilitated, thus resulting in generating new ideas in IT development. It has been also argued that the underrepresentation and exclusion of women from IT is attributed to sociocultural and power production of inequality through IT use and its development (Trauth et al., 2016). Therefore, it is the duty of researchers to show the growing interest in how women’s participation in appropriate information and ICT can address the IT needs and aspirations. Therefore, future research work should contribute to the use of ICT by women in order to tackle gender inequality, which has been observed in this paper and evidenced by a number of primary studies. In line with the findings of this study, Roberts (2016) suggested that practice and critical theory of ICT enabled the underrepresented and disadvantaged people to utilize ICT and improve the understanding of root causes behind the inequality which has been experienced by women in the past. This paper has some of the limitations in the context of including only primary studies, and excluding direct surveys of IT companies to present the accurate number of women employed in the IT sector. Therefore, future research work should address this limitation, which is also observed in several other studies regarding women underrepresentation in the IT sector.

Conclusion

In this paper, the author has undertaken a research on underrepresentation of women’s jobs in the IT sector by reviewing recently published research articles. The author also found challenges and barriers which women face while working in the IT sector. From the review of existing studies, the year 1991 has been found with maximum women employment (36%) in IT sector and afterward it declined to 24% in 2008. Role of women in computing manufacturing industries and computing services centers have been identified with some significant examples in history. The author identifies several other reasons behind under-representation of women in the IT jobs and achievement of scholarships. Education and disability have been identified the causes of decline of women employment of IT jobs. Widely examined issues identified in this research article include rape, harassment, feminist representation, pornography, self-presentation and gender ethical. The cultural norms too have been identified the barrier for women to do the job in IT sector where men and women interaction is mandatory. In the final part of the paper, the author suggests a few recommendations to reverse the fast decline of women jobs in the IT sector. It has been suggested that future research work should focus on direct surveys from female employees working in IT companies.

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  1. Chen, Y. A., Mora, A., & Kemis, M. (2017). Recruiting and retaining women in information technology programs. New Directions for Community Colleges2017(178), 79-90.
  2. Hassan Al Marzouqi, A., & Forster, N. (2011). An exploratory study of the under-representation of Emirate women in the United Arab Emirates’ information technology sector. Equality, Diversity and Inclusion: An International Journal30(7), 544-562.
  3. Kleist, V. F. (2012). Social networking ties and low interest, underrepresentation and low status for women in information technology field. Sex Roles, 66(34), 253-255.
  4. Mononen, J., & Halonen, R. (2017). Educated physically disabled women in the information and communication technology sector. International Journal of Information Systems and Social Change (IJISSC)8(4), 23-36.
  5. Oleksy, W., Just, E., & Zapedowska-Kling, K. (2012). Gender issues in information and communication technologies (ICTs). Journal of Information, Communication and Ethics in Society10(2), 107-120.
  6. Roberts, T. (2016). Women’s use of participatory video technology to tackle gender inequality in Zambia’s ICT sector. In Proceedings of the Eighth International Conference on Information and Communication Technologies and Development (p. 6). ACM.
  7. Schafer, V., & Thierry, B. G. (Eds.). (2015). Connecting women: Women, gender and ICT in Europe in the nineteenth and twentieth century. New York. Springer.
  8. Trauth, E., Joshi, K. D., Kvasny, L., Morgan, A. J., & Payton, F. C. (2016). Making Black Lives Matter in the information technology profession. In Proceedings of the 2016 ACM SIGMIS Conference on Computers and People Research (pp. 123-124). ACM.
  9. US Fed News Service. (2017). Information sciences and technology doctoral student aims to  empower Saudi women through technology.
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