The Pipeline and Beyond
Women have been involved with IT since the 19th century, when Ada the countess of Lovelace was the first programmer for Charles Babbage’s analytical engine. Grace Murray Hopper’s contributions to COBOL and computing several decades ago are considered so significant that an annual conference is held in her honor (see http://www.grace hopper.org). In fact, the earliest computer programmers tended to be women more often than men (Panteli, Stack, & Ramsay, 2001). As the IT field progressed, however, it evolved into what many still view as a male-dominated domain, some say due to its increasing association with power and money (Tapia, Kvasny, & Trauth, 2003). Today, women make up at least half of World Wide Web users (Newburger, 2001), but this has apparently not translated into a proportionate participation in IT careers. IT managers must recruit and retain a skilled and diverse workforce in order to meet the needs of increasingly global enterprises where cross-cultural, heterogeneous work groups are the norm. However, numerous sources (Information Technology Association of America [ITAA], 2003; Zweben, 2005) agree that the proportion of females to males selecting and completing degrees in IT-related fields is declining. Not only are women missing out on career opportunities, but the IT profession is also missing potentially valuable alternative perspectives on system design (Woodfield, 2002). Worldwide, the digital divide is more extreme for women than men (Hafkin & Taggart, 2001), with the result that in many developing countries, women’s access to computers is more limited than men’s access. However, IT is an important driver for economic development and should provide women with new opportunities to better their circumstances, provided that a variety of challenges, such as technical education and social and political norms, can be addressed (Hafkin & Taggart, 2001). Even in more developed countries, females face well-documented (Margolis & Fisher, 2002; von Hellens, Nielsen, & Beekhuyzen, 2004) obstacles all along the pipeline beginning as early as middle school and continuing through college, graduate school, and the career. Developing solutions to recruit and retain women in IT may serve other underrepresented groups as well, making IT classrooms and IT workplaces more inviting and ultimately more productive environments for everyone.