Gender differences in defining technology

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Book Chapter

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There is an alarming trend in the information technology (IT) career field: fewer women than in the past are entering the IT educational pipeline (Camp, 1997; Cukier, Shortt, & Devine, 2002; Whitaker, 2000; Woszczynski, Myers & Beise, 2004). Researchers have discovered a number of possible causes for this dearth including lack of female role models (Ahuja, 2002; Trauth, 2002), the “nerd” image (Braham, 1992; Menagh, 1998; Van Brussel, 1992), and family distractions (Ahuja, 2002; Trauth, 2002). With approximately 50% of the general workforce comprised of women in the United States, this statistic is alarming. At the same time, the IT skills shortage is rapidly becoming a global concern (Cukier et al., 2002; Trauth, 2002; Verton, 2004). The message is clear: something radical needs to be done now to attract and retain qualified, talented women to the IT field. The general understanding of IT can be seen as an obstacle to attracting job candidates. When junior and senior high school students were asked about their perceptions of IT workers, the majority responded with terms like “weird”, “nerd”, and “geek (Menagh, 1998; Van Brussel, 1992). The derogatory tone is unmistakable since socialization practices of young girls influence their career choices long before they enter universities (Ahuja, 2002). The basic definition of IT learned through industry and government agencies invokes the areas of computer science and engineering (Cukier et al., 2002). The lack of a concise definition of IT precludes development of a deeper understanding of the problem (Woszczynski et al., 2004). In the past, technology workers have been required to possess strong mathematical and technical skills to create algorithms and to program in tedious computer languages (Weinberg, 1971). This practice ignores the multidimensional nature of IT work. Many workers enter the IT field through paths other than computer science or engineering education programs. So, why is the definition of IT so narrowly focused on these two areas? The purpose of this article is to explore the influence of gender on perceptions of technology. Next, relevant literature from the information systems field is reviewed, followed by a comparison of definitions found in academic articles, textbooks, and practitioner journals. The next section describes the methods and results of a 2004 study on definitions of technology of undergraduate students (Buche, 2005). Themes extracted from their definitions are compared based on gender. Following the results, a first attempt at a gender-sensitive definition is proposed. The article ends with future trends and conclusions for managers and academics.

Publisher's Statement

© 2006 Idea Group Inc. Publisher’s version of record: http://dx.doi.org/10.4018/978-1-59140-815-4.ch082

Publication Title

Encyclopedia of Gender and Information Technology