Why WIC?

I am active with Indiana University’s Women In Informatics and Computing (WIC) group. Recently, I’ve been promoting our upcoming events. In doing so, I’ve been asked by a couple of people why women interested and working in technology need a “special” group. After all, they said, doesn’t giving special attention to a group that says it is striving for equality seem a little…hypocritical?

The short answer is no, it’s not hypocritical at all. Here’s the long answer:

Today, women account for only 15-20% of computer science majors and 25% of the U.S technology workforce [3]. And, these women are paid 12% less on average than their male counterparts [1]. And, when it comes to high-tech firms, men are significantly more likely than women to hold high-level management or executive positions [5]. Furthermore, most studies predict that the numbers will continue to decline.

This is known as the gender computer gap.

When you consider that the computing industry had projected adding 1.6 million new jobs between 2002 and 2012, and employment for computer software engineers alone was projected to increase by 38% from 2006 to 2016 [6], the gender computing gap doesn’t make sense and in fact seems detrimental to women in general as well as the computing industry as a whole.

There are two reasons that this gender gap must be reversed: 1) Women who lack computing confidence may miss out on the increasing number of technology-related job opportunities; and 2) technological industries will lose out on the talent of skilled women to help fill the shortage of trained workers.

There is no easy answer to why this gender computer gap exists. One influential factor is that computing and technical jobs in general suffer from an image problem. What is the average opinion of computing? One of the most common misconceptions is that “It’s for nerds and geeks.” Women are commonly turned off by this image.

Another factor contributing to the gender computer gap is women face negative stereotypes regarding their competence in the technical workplace, especially women in mid-level management.

One solution to overcoming this image problem and competence stereotype is to promote the visibility and competence of technical women through role models and peer networking.

Recent research conducted by Dr. Penelope Lockwood, a social psychologist specializing in research on social comparison, role models and motivation, has shown that women need female role models more than males need male role models, and that such role models can be used break the myths surrounding women and technology

“Female role models may not only be a useful example for women who are attempting to determine their potential for future achievement, they also may provide a means of undermining stereotypes that might otherwise threaten their career performance,” Dr. Lockwood said [4].

Perhaps the most powerful aspect of the idea of the role model is that when one person opens a gate, others can pile through it. If there are more women role models in computing, then perhaps we can reverse the gender computer gap and women will no longer be a minority in the field of computing or in upper-level management.

As Gail Farnsley, a professor in Purdue’s Department of Computer and Information Technology, a former VP of IT and CIO at Cummins, Inc., and one of Computerworld’s Premier 100 IT Leaders for 2008 wrote, “Being part of a peer networking group might be the best career moves you ever make” [2].

WIC is a peer networking organization full of role models who spread the word that women are just as competent and able as men to work in computing. We strive to encourage, empower, and inspire other women to enter the computing field and can perhaps play a small part in reversing the gender computer gap. We hope that one day the number of women in computing and the pay they receive will be equal to men. But, that is not the case today.

And, that’s why WIC is needed and is not hypocritical.

REFERENCES
[1] Dubie, D. (2008). IT salary increases modest; gender gap widens: Annual survey shows managers saw best salary increases in 2007. Network World.

[2] Farnsley, G. (2009) Every IT woman needs a peer network: Here’s why: Finding a group you identify with can lead to immeasurable career and personal gain. Computerworld.

[3] Koernig, S. K., & Granitz, N. (2006). Progressive yet traditional: The portrayal of women compared to that of men in e-commerce magazine advertisements. Journal of Advertising, 35(2), 81-98.

[4] Lockwood, P. (2006). Someone like me can be successful: Do college students need same-gendered role models? Psychology of Women Quarterly. 30(1), 36-46.

[5] Simard, C., Henderson, A. D., Gilmartin, S. K., Schiebinger, L., & Whitney, T. (2008). Executive Summary: Climbing the technical ladder: Obstacles and solutions for mid-level women in technology. Anita Borg Institute and Stanford University.

[6] Vesgo, J. (2006) BLS IT Workforce Projections Compared. Computing Research Association Bulletin.

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One response to this post.

  1. I strongly agree! That would be like saying all the groups of women that fought to get the right to vote were being hypocritical too. I think by promoting your group’s events you are putting a face to the group and hence being a great role model yourself. Others may follow just because they are impressed by all that you are doing and recognize the difference that it is making. I say Go You! 🙂

    Reply

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