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Researchers identify influences in information technology career choices for women

Virginia Polytechnic Institute And State University : 14 October, 2004  (Technical Article)
A Virginia Tech team of researchers has identified five factors that influence girls
A Virginia Tech team of researchers has identified five factors that influence girls’ informational technology career choices. Backed with more than $882,000 in funding by the National Science Foundation, the statewide project “Women in Information Technology: Pivotal Transitions from School to Careers” evaluates the impact of family, peers, school, and community on girls’ perceptions of IT careers.

The resultant statistics/DVD/Facilitator’s Guide are the culmination of four years of research by three scholars in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences: Carol Burger, director of the Science and Gender Equity Program; Elizabeth Creamer, associate professor in the School of Education; and Peggy S. Meszaros, director of the Center for Information Technology Impacts on Children, Youth and Families.

The Virginia Tech research demonstrates that high school and college women who express an interest in a computer-related career share five central characteristics.

First, these women tend to be minorities, including African Americans, Asian Americans, Hispanic Americans, Native Americans, and multiracial Americans.

Second, they perceive that their parents support this career choice, with the mother being particularly influential.

Third, these women use computers at an early age, for a variety of communication and information purposes, and, unlike their male peers, typically not for computer games.

Fourth, these women have a positive view of IT professionals and tend not to think of a computer-related career as only for “nerds” or “geeks.”

The last quality these women share is that they have not discussed career options with a variety of people. In fact, those who sought more information were least likely to choose IT careers.

Using a Path Analysis Model, the researchers determined these influencing factors after conducting telephone interviews and three rounds of surveys with 1,026 girls and women across the state of Virginia at rural and urban high schools (Pulaski, Wytheville, Giles, Fairfax and Hampton), and a variety of community colleges and universities (New River Community College, Wytheville Hampton), and a variety of community colleges and universities (New River Community, George Mason University, Norfolk State, Old Dominion, and Virginia Tech).

A Facilitator’s Guide is being developed to accompany the DVD and will be piloted next spring by parents, counselors, teachers, and academic advisors. The national debut of the video “The Power of Partners: Helping Females Find Their Way to High Tech Careers” will be on Friday, Oct. 14, 7 p.m. in Hillcrest Hall.

“The results of this study will provide educators, policy makers, and administrators with a major dissemination product,” said Meszaros. “Up until now, there have been no career resources for women that have considered the simultaneous impact of numerous factors on career interest in IT.” Sally K. Ride, former NASA shuttle veteran and now an education consultant, was enthusiastic about the results and the end product after viewing it at a National Science Foundation meeting.

The Virginia Tech research project was guided by Marcia Baxter Magolda’s (Miami University, Ohio) theoretical framework of self-authorship, which is a way of collecting, interpreting, and analyzing information in order to form judgments. This is the first time that Magolda’s theory base has been extended beyond a college population. This interdisciplinary research team has also collected data from students in Korea, Australia, and New Zealand. “Analysis of these data will allow us to test our model across cultures,” Burger said.

“Girls with an emerging sense of self-authorship are able to consider multiple viewpoints about career options and to weigh information in the light of growing awareness of a sense of self,” said Creamer. “They can listen to diverse viewpoints without being unduly influenced by them.” The DVD likens this view to a tandem bicycle, with the girl guiding her decisions in the front with the support of the stoker (parent, partner, advisor) in the back.

In just five years, the Center for Information Technology Impacts on Children, Youth, and Families has raised over $1.8 million in research funding from external sources, including the National Science Foundation, the Virginia Tobacco Settlement Foundation and the Department of Education. This funding has provided support for numerous graduate students, national and international conference presentations and papers, and growing visibility for its research. The Center has worked to expand partnerships and Center affiliates, and has also garnered industry support. Along with support that the three investigators received from two programs in the National Science Foundation, Microsoft, Cisco Systems, and Texas Instruments provided support for a four-day international conference in Oxford, England, in August, where the NSF video made its international debut.
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