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Cracks in the Glass Ceiling: Identifying Factors Affecting Persistence and Advancement for Women in IT

May 23, 2019

By Becca Broaddus

Cindy Riemenschneider is chipping away at the glass ceiling of the information technology (IT) field.

In her recent article, “The Advancement and Persistence of Women in the Information Technology Profession: An Extension of Ahuja’s Gendered Theory of IT Career Stages” published in the Information Systems Journal, she made some more progress.

Using Manju Ahuja’s theoretical framework about career stages and barriers for women in the IT profession, “Women in the Information Technology Profession: A Literature Review, Synthesis and Research Agenda,” as a starting point, Riemenschneider and her peers focused on two career stages: persistence (choosing to stay in IT) and advancement (upward mobility).

“We wanted to use data to look at how the landscape has changed for women in IT,” Riemenschneider, associate dean for research and faculty development, said. “It’s 16 years later, is it still the same? Is it different? From a data perspective, what have we learned?”

With fellow researchers, Deborah J. Armstrong and recent Information Systems PhD graduate Laurie G. Giddens, they began with a citation analysis.

In the original 94 citations, there were 40 that directly discussed gender and advancement in IT. From those 40, there were three themes: gender-related discrimination, the gendering of work, and IT work environment and perceptions of exclusion and the negative influence exclusion has on career opportunities. There were 37 articles on the persistence side, although, there weren’t clear themes as article topics varied from tokenism to level of autonomy.

The researchers then hosted 28 women from IT departments at three companies for focus groups, and took the information gathered back to compare to Ahuja’s original framework.

The study confirmed most of Ahuja’s original propositions and extended the original paper with three new proposed factors that affect career advancement and persistence for women in IT: institutional structures, social expectations and occupational culture.

Institutional structures like on-site daycare, company size or female leadership, impact whether a woman is going to persist in her IT career. Social expectations (i.e. an opinionated woman is perceived as “pushy,” while an opinionated man is perceived as “confident.”) and occupational structures (i.e. the culture of a male-dominated field and one that requires long work hours) affect the likelihood a woman will stay in the field.

“There are still barriers to advancement and persistence,” Riemenschneider said. “My long-term goal is to try to minimize those barriers. We have come a long way since 1960, but we’re still not where we should be.”

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