US corporate training programmes aimed at retaining female researchers in technology may be focussing on the wrong targets.
A report, out on 7 February in Information Systems Journal, examines the results of in-depth interviews with 23 women in information-technology jobs across nine US firms, including consultancies, a bank and an insurance company. Study authors sought to identify the challenges faced by female researchers in industrial technology positions.
Companies often pay for women-centred mentoring and professional-development training, but study participants said that the biggest obstacle to their staying in their jobs was the work environment, not a shortfall in job training. Fifteen of the 23 respondents, for example, reported that they felt isolated and excluded, and 13 said that a male-dominated workplace contributed to their feelings of alienation. “There’s a mismatch with all of these investments in training and professional development and the barriers that women actually face,” says Hala Annabi, the lead author of the study and an information systems scholar at the University of Washington in Seattle.
The study suggests that companies wanting to attract and retain more women should consider changing their own culture and support systems, perhaps through educational programmes that raise awareness of bias and underscore the value of gender diversity, Annabi says. “We want to make sure organizations are putting together interventions that are meaningful and not just reactionary,” she adds.
A Pew Research Center report in January found that the proportion of women in computer-related fields has dropped from 32% in 1990 to 25% today.
Chris Woolston is a freelance writer in Billings, Montana.