By Abigail Loop
Women in information technology professions are struggling to make their way in a field dominated by men, according to a recent study conducted by a Baylor professor.
Dr. Cindy Riemenschneider, professor of information systems and associate dean for research and faculty development, found that women are leaving IT professions due to certain challenges such as a lack of female mentors and the uneven ratio of men to women.
Riemenschneider and her colleague, Dr. Deborah Armstrong of Florida State University, used two focus groups to look at specific challenges women face in a professional setting and how this affects career advancement and persistence in IT careers.
“We got different women who work in IT professions and we went to their conference rooms and visited with them and asked them questions,” Riemenschneider said. “We then recorded all their answers verbatim and analyzed what they said and that’s how we got the new model.”
Riemenschneider said she adapted a former research model proposed by researcher Manju Ahuja for her project. Ahuja’s model did not use empirical data so Riemenschneider and Armstrong conducted a study to plug in real information to be analyzed.
“One of the main challenges is that the IT field has always been an historically male-dominated field,” Riemenschneider said. “So when women in IT want to advance, especially to executive levels, they don’t always have female mentors who are in positions above them that they can look to.”
Riemenschneider and Armstrong found that society’s expectations that women put family first, and women’s work-family conflict, were challenges that influenced occupational culture, as women seemed to be treated differently than men in the IT field.
Their study “The Barriers Facing Women in the Information Technology” considered broad questions such as, “Do you think women in the IT workplace face different challenges than men?” and “What keeps you working in the IT field?”
Riemenschneider said the solution she arrived at from the responses was to have managers and human resource specialists understand that women need different accommodations, especially as mothers.
“There’s not a one size fits all solution,” she said. “We have to realize that in order to overcome some of these challenges, there needs to be viable solutions for women at every phase of their life that influence their career as well.”
Armstrong said she agreed with Riemenschneider that a certain understanding has to be made for women in the workplace.
“Women get promoted, but only so far,” Armstrong said. “I think HR policies need to be customized. A lot of this is in understanding one another.” Armstrong suggested making new policies that would ensure women can be a professional and still have a place in their families as well.
But Armstrong said the problem goes beyond bringing women into the IT field. A second problem is maintaining their positions.
“It’s not a matter of getting a women in a position, it’s getting her to stay there,” Armstrong said.
Riemenschneider said she hopes the current decrease of women in IT professions will change as more research comes to light.
“That’s one of the reasons I do research in this area,” Riemenschneider said. “In the long term, it can help young ladies who come after me, especially ones who are going into IT professions.”