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Study: Women Just as Satisfied in It Jobs as Elsewhere

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A smiling woman giving the thumbs up gesture.

A new study has found that preconceptions that women are less satisfied with IT jobs than with employment in other industries are just not true.

Credit: Empower Network

One reason why women are underrepresented in the IT profession is their lack of satisfaction in those jobs – or so researchers have theorized. When women make it known they are dissatisfied in IT, researchers suspected, others steer their education choices and subsequent employment in other directions.

However, a recent study that surveyed 9,617 women employed in the U.S. reveals that simply is not the case: women are just as satisfied in Information Technology jobs as they are in other fields. The study was sponsored by Saint Louis University’s John Cook School of Business.

"Given what we know about the underrepresentation of women in IT," says Carl P. Maertz, Jr., an author of the study and a professor of management at Saint Louis University (SLU), "we never expected to see those results."

How, then, can we account for the relatively low percentage of women attracted to positions in IT? The authors say that wasn’t part of the study, but may be incorporated into future research.

"I suspect the reason has to do with misconceptions," says Cynthia M. LeRouge, another of the study’s authors and an associate professor of health management and policy, and also IT management, at SLU. "If the misconception is out there that IT jobs are worse than other professions for women, then of course they’ll go elsewhere. We want to set the facts straight so that when a career counselor or parent or teacher portrays IT professions, they shouldn’t portray them as any worse than any other."

The study compares women in IT employed at the clerical, professional, and managerial levels to comparable groups of non-IT employees on six facets of job satisfaction – job security, the work itself, supervisors, compensation, work/life balance, and advancement opportunities. The only two facets (out of 18) where IT compared slightly unfavorably were the work itself and job security, both at the professional level only.

So where did these misconceptions originate? While the study doesn’t address this issue, LeRouge believes there are just certain careers that are associated with one gender or the other.

"For example, nurses are usually considered to be women, although that’s not necessarily true," she says. "I certainly don’t remember any career counselors encouraging me by saying IT would be a good profession for me."

Maertz speculates there may be another reason why women are underrepresented in IT and that is that they are simply less interested in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields.

"Everyone talks about how horrible it is that women don’t get into STEM," he says. "They say it’s horrible for women and horrible for society, but I don’t buy that. Maybe they’re just not as interested, despite how much you tell them ‘it’s a new world’ and they should be interested. If that’s the case, then we’re all wasting our time by trying to tell women what’s good for them and trying to force them to join these professions. If that’s the problem, then there is no problem."

Valerie Barr doesn’t accept that.

"If girls were treated equally when it came to math and science from the day they were born until the day they were graduated from college, then I would say it’s totally fine that they made a decision not to go into computer science or IT," says Barr, a professor of computer science at Union College and chair of the ACM Committee on Women (ACM-W). "That would be a really well-informed, honest decision."

However, she says, there is ample evidence that girls are treated differently in math and science classes, and their perception of their performance is often such that they think they are no good in those subjects.

"So it’s very likely that is one of the reasons why women don’t go into STEM fields," she adds.

Barr also finds fault with the Saint Louis University study, noting that it doesn’t compare different types of organizations where women might be employed in IT positions – a hospital, for instance, versus a large computer industry firm like Google or Oracle.

"I suspect the responses from women regarding job satisfaction in [those two types of organizations] would be quite different," says Barr.

Such a comparison may be incorporated into future research, LeRouge says.

LeRouge observes that, regardless of why women choose not to enter the profession, their absence can have a negative effect on society in general. For instance, because software developers tend "to use their own mental models as a guide in the innovation and creation processes," she says, "software that is developed only by men may miss pieces along the way that women could have contributed."

Meanwhile, the good news about the survey, say its authors, is that it can – and should -- be used to "trumpet to the world" that women are just as satisfied in IT as in other professions.

This call to action – for career counselors, parents, mentors, mass media, and literature – is just as important as changing the tasks of IT jobs to make the work itself appealing, says the study’s conclusion.

"Because we live in a world where underrepresentation is seen as a problem, I would repeat the main message of our paper," says Maertz, "which is to tell women not to believe the hype, don’t believe the stereotype. If they have any interest in IT at all, don’t think that women in that profession don’t like it, don’t think that women can’t make it, because that’s not what the best data we have to date says."

Paul Hyman is a science and technology writer based in Great Neck, NY.


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