May 24 2006 - The diversity of today's workforce is a challenge to
information-technology organizations with "one-size-fits-all" policies, especially
when it comes to women employees, according to recent research.
"Policy makers, educators, managers need to recognize that you can't generalize to all
women," said Dr. Eileen Trauth, professor at Penn State College of Information Sciences and Technology and
Technology (IST) in the USA. "There is far too much variation in the paths that women take for
anyone to assume that women's career motivations are the same, their methods of balancing
work and family are the same, or their responses to motherhood are the same."
Dr. Trauth interviewed 167 women working in IT in Australia,
New Zealand, Ireland and the United States. The women also had a range of racial and ethnic backgrounds.
The study is described in a paper, "Cross-Cultural Influences on Women in the IT
Workforce," presented recently at the 2006 ACM conference on computer-personnel research
held in Pomona, California. The paper was co-written with Jeria Quesenberry and Haiyan Huang, both
doctoral students at IST.
Eileen Trauth said that the interviews suggested women's career choices were influenced by a wide range of
factors including gender stereotypes, societal messages and family dynamics. Additionally,
she also found a wide range of responses to motherhood, career and educational
choices and gender stereotypes. These reinforced Dr. Trauth's belief that recognizing such diversity may
result in more opportunities for women.
"What would be inappropriate is to look at a young woman and presume that she will get
married, or that she will have children or that she will leave the workforce if she does
have children," said Trauth, paraphrasing the experience of one her interviewees. "Organizations
shouldn't have HR policies based on gender stereotypes because people are motivated by
different things-salary, job security, flexible work schedules."
The US interviews also formed the basis of another paper,
"Understanding the 'Mommy Tracks': A Framework for Analyzing Work-Family Balance in the
IT Workforce" published in the Information Resources
Management Journal (April-June 2006). In this paper, Quesenberry, Trauth and Allison Morgan - also an IST doctoral
student - contend that women working in IT in the USA have devised a variety of strategies to
balance their work-family responsibilities. Some feature in the workplace - such as
flexible hours - while others focus on the home, including supportive partners, spouses and parents.
Because of such differences, Dr. Trauth holds that employers should not establish a single
"parenthood track" for employees.
The researchers also highlighted a number of significant differences in
the way culture influences career choices. For example:
- Referring to a woman interested in IT as a "geek" is a compliment in China.
- Information technology jobs are seen as "clean" work in Ireland
- Women's exam scores determine careers in India - unless they are members of
the highest social class who are not expected to work.
According to Dr. Treuth, stereotyping may be one reason for the
under-representation of women in the American IT workforce. A survey conducted in 2004 found
that women account for only 32.4% of IT workers, compared with 41% in 1996.