Women in Technology Leadership | Research

An increasing number of women have pursued careers in IT over the last decade (Ahuja, 2002). However, Bebbington (2002) reported that the increased number of female college graduates has not resulted in an increase in science, engineering and technology leadership positions held by women. The author stated that women seeking technology roles generally find challenges in integrating into the organizational culture and obtaining a position in management (Bebbington, 2002). Ahuja (2002) added that less than 5% of all IT management positions are filled by women. According to Bebbington (2002), one challenge for women seeking technology leadership roles involves the “domestic responsibility model” (p. 364), which suggests that women choose less competitive careers as a result of their propensity to prioritize family over career. Tang and Smith (1996) reported that women seeking leadership roles in IT may be at a disadvantage because of early attempts to socialize them away from mathematics and science. NCWIT (2007) stated that the under-representation of women in IT moves from their socialization away from technology into the college ranks, where introductory college courses turn many women away from IT fields. NCWIT (2007) reported that women are more interested in using computers to solve problems than actually working on the hardware of the computers.

Some women in IT leadership roles struggle with the unrealistic expectations that lead to negative performance reviews and eventual separation from the organization (Ryan & Haslem, 2005). For women seeking a management position, family demands, bias in performance evaluations, favoritism towards white males, and assignment to female-oriented tasks and markets are also key contributors to the lack of women in IT management (Tang & Smith, 2006). Wright (1996) argued that women also face challenges in IT because of contradictions between the nurturing nature of women and the anti-social, male-dominated culture of information technology. Carayon, Schoepke, Hoonakker, Haims, and Brunette (2006) stated that unfavorable performance reviews contribute to women having higher attrition rates in IT than men. Using Kanter’s Tokenism Theory as the basis, Wright (1996) argued that the only way to overcome attrition and increase the number of women in IT leadership roles is by simply increasing the number of women in IT. The theory is based on the premise that women in IT perform poorly on performance reviews because they are too few in number in male-dominated organizations (Wright, 1996). Ibarra and Obodaru (2009) posited that bias against women in performance reviews is seen in their low scores when compared to men in the area of leadership.

Page (2005) studied women in IT leadership roles in the Washington, DC area. The study explored the perceptions of barriers and skill sets of women in executive positions at IT companies. Page (2005) found that women join IT organizations for different reasons ranging from career opportunities and salaries to an opportunity for a challenge. The study found that the majority of participants held at least a master’s degree in an area that was not technology related. Page (2005) addressed the barriers for women obtaining executive level IT positions and found that the “good ole boy” system was a major challenge for women. Page (2005) also found that workplace culture influences the success of women obtaining leadership positions, as “executive-level women in IT organizations believe promotions are also relationship based” (p. 105). The under-representation of women in the IT workforce was found to be competitive advantage for women as the participants expressed enjoyment with “being in the minority with regard to gender” (Page, 2005, p. 105).

Only 5% of the Page (2005) study participants were motivated to pursue a career in IT as a result of their educational backgrounds. Twenty-five percent of the participants had a passion for technology. Page (2005) stated that the participants in the study “revealed that most female executives in IT organizations transition into the IT industry from some other industry” (p. 104). Page (2005) addressed leadership in organizations and found that “female leaders face many stereotypes and biases, which affect the degree to which they are accepted as leaders” (p. 107). Page (2005) suggested that learning the culture and politics of an organization are important characteristics for women seeking to obtain an IT leadership role. Page (2005) explored the factors that support women sustaining an IT leadership role. The study found that the most common experiences of the study participants were: “get along well with peers, contributing to the bottom line, personal drive and motivation, being a visionary, customer satisfaction, networking, and maintaining visibility” (Page, 2005, p. 107).

Literature Gap

Although the literature addressing gender and culture was voluminous, few recent writings were available relative to the relationship between the two topics within specific industries. Recent literature addressing the issues of women and information technology leadership gaps was limited. Most literature focused on women or information technology, but did not address the perceived barriers to leadership by women in information technology.

Dr. Alford’s study was designed to address the gap in literature.