Researcher examines globalization in IT workforce

January 21, 2009

Eileen Trauth, associate dean for diversity, outreach, and international engagement in Penn State’s College of Information Sciences and Technology (IST), recently completed a sabbatical and research that could help employers hire more women for information technology (IT) positions and develop insights about globalization.

Trauth spent four months in Austria as the Fulbright-University of Klagenfurt distinguished chair in gender studies, during which time she developed and taught two courses on the relationship between gender and the information technology profession.

In her teaching, Trauth drew upon her research that examines the influence of socio-cultural influences on women in the IT profession. In her research, she interviewed female IT professionals in selected regions of the U.S and countries including Australia, India, Ireland and New Zealand. The findings from that research appear in two papers published in 2008.

“A stereotype has developed to show that women do not like to do this work,” Trauth said. “But this research shows that it’s simply not true. Women want to work in the IT field, but face barriers that differ from country to country and within a particular country over time.”

In Ireland, for example, Trauth interviewed women in 1990 who had experienced a societal norm that expected women to leave the paid workforce upon marriage. But by the time she returned in 2003, she found that women had little knowledge of this barrier and were certainly not bound by it.

“They explained that working women are no longer viewed as taking a job away from a man who is supporting a family,” Trauth said. “They realized that dual-income couples are necessary in the new economic reality of increased costs and home mortgages. In addition the growing IT sector needed the best qualified individuals, whether they were men or women.”

Trauth said another factor that affects a woman’s decision to enter the workforce is the familial responsibilities expected in her culture. In some cultures, women are responsible not only for their own children but their elderly parents and in-laws as well.

Once women decide to take a job, what kind of work they do also depends on cultural influences.

“The American societal message of career choice centers on what you want to be,” she said. “Yet, in other countries the message centers on what you can be or what you should be.”

The classes Trauth taught as part of the Fulbright program and the 200 interviews conducted over the past two decades represent information that can prove beneficial to IT managers and those responsible for hiring decisions – giving them insight into women’s concerns and how they can address those issues to make their operations more accessible to women.

Trauth said her efforts abroad will improve her work in the College of IST, which involves recruitment and retention of women and minorities in the college, and creating global engagement strategies so as to develop greater cross-cultural competence among the students.

“I worked on establishing connections to enhance our international engagement, exploring opportunities for faculty exchanges, undergraduate exchange programs and opportunities to further internationalize our existing curriculum,” she said.

Trauth’s most recent article “A Multicultural Analysis of Factors Influencing Career Choice for Women in the Information Technology Workforce” appears in the October-December 2008 issue of the Journal of Global Information Management


Last Updated March 19, 2009