Women’s exit of IT studied at Baylor

By Amanda Yarger

Women working in information technologies still represent a minority, but do have opportunity to expand due to today’s tech-savvy culture, according to one Baylor professor’s study.

Dr. Cindy Riemenschneider, associate dean for research and faculty development, co-authored a research study focusing on factors that have caused an “exodus” of women from the IT field and possible ways to reverse it. Pertinent factors include social factors and the work-family conflict.

“With people who have dual-career marriages, the fact that you can end up with a child who’s sick or needs to go the doctor, well, whose turn is it?” Riemenschneider said. “With both parents career oriented, delegating family responsibilities can be a challenge.”

Traditional society has possessed a perception of women being the primary child care provider regardless of career ambitions or placement; however, with the advancement of technology, women can still be accessible to both work and family units Riemenschneider said.

“You can have your laptop at home,” she said. “We have the technology where we can take a laptop and sit at a child’s soccer practice and finish something for work.”

Factors that have also discouraged women from joining or staying in IT include knowledge of the fact that not many women are in it, Riemenschneider’s report found.

Women may have a harder time finding mentors in their field, who are important to advancement in their career and knowledge. While a man could easily find a mentor in their same area of expertise, a woman may have to look outside of their group, according to the study.

“Because of the imbalance with regard to gender, a woman that wants that type of a mentor may need to seek out a mentor from another organization,” she said. “She might participate in the Association of Information Technology Professionals and get in a professional group where she can find mentors for her. She has to be proactive.”

In 2012, Yale University performed a study that polled academic STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) faculty and found that when presented with the choice between male and female student applicants, the female student was chosen less frequently based on estimates of incompetency.

According to Riemenschneider’s study, previous research into why women continually represent a minority in IT is women can be stereotyped into the “softer side of IT” and not be put into higher end levels of power.

Her research found that participants expressed a hardship in working from the bottom of the company up.

“No one in key positions has worked up through the ranks because all of the senior women have been brought in from the outside,” a participant said. “Women are not promoted from within, but men were.”

Contrary to research studies like Yale’s, Riemenschneider’s research has shown encouragement on the part of women to other women in the field.

Centennial, Colo., sophomore Kristin Bogar, a mechanical engineering major, said she’s found a helpful female mentor to guide her through her major in the STEM field.

“She’s been showing me the ropes,” she said. “Engineering is a hard field.”

From advice on the field to grades, Bogar’s mentor encourages her to do her best.

“You do your job and it’ll reward you,” Bogar said of her mentor’s advice.

Across the U.S., more focus is being centralized into helping women into STEM field positions.

“I find that women tend to be very supportive of other women and try to have ways to help them and share stories with each other to be supportive of one another,” Riemenschneider said.