Monday, April 28th, 2014

For decades the low number of women in information technology has been attributed to gender-based bias and barriers. Yet despite reams of research, years of intervention programs aiming to reverse the issue and possibly billions of dollars spent on it around the world the results are now worse, not better.

How and why have we failed?

In a new book drawing on those years of research, the latest findings and personal experience, long term activist Sonja Bernhardt OAM proposes two startling and controversial yet simple answers: men and women are statistically different and they are all individuals with their own individual interests.

Women enter IT careers for the same reason they enter any career: they are more interested in it than the alternatives. And the research shows that most have known of that interest from early in their lives and most of the rest discover an interest in their workplace. Only between 1% and 6% have been netted by intervention programs. This and numerous other results show that while external barriers to female entry into technical careers certainly existed in the past, the remaining barriers are too weak to explain the shortfall. Instead, Bernhardt finds, the careers women prefer simply differ statistically from those preferred by men.

The globally published work is “Women in IT in the New Social Era: A Critical Evidence-Based Review of Gender Inequality and the Potential for Change.” As the title suggests it is a thoroughly referenced academic tome, but it pulls no punches when it comes to addressing the failure of intervention policies and the theories behind them. "It is time to face the facts and STOP," says Bernhardt. “Stop thinking of this as a gender issue, stop running the same projects and programs, stop 'treating' this ‘issue’. It is time to recognise that at the core are individuals and only individual interests matter.”

The book introduces a new “STEMcell” model of the influences on career choice. While incorporating the social, cultural and structural influences of earlier models, it moves the individual and her own interests and values to the core and adds a new “#SocialIT” layer that can bypass the other influences and reach directly to and from the individual. The key arguments of the book are not only that the individual - too often considered putty moulded by social forces and pressures - is the neglected key, but that the tools of #SocialIT and rapidly changing technology itself will sweep away remaining barriers on their own.

With over 470 references, “Women in IT in the New Social Era” has a broad sweep. It surveys the history of women in IT, summarises the power of the new social IT era and describes the failure of current approaches. It then develops the aspects of the STEMcell model and broadens its scope with comparisons to other industries and countries. Despite is primary recommendation of “STOP”, it praises the passion of the women who want to spread the word about IT careers and makes numerous secondary recommendations about how they should use the tools of #SocialIT to help individuals discover their interests and pursue their careers. These recommendations will be of interest to a diverse audience including researchers, educators, policy makers, companies and individuals.

The book received rave peer reviews and has already excited interest at the highest levels in the EU. While global in scope it retains a distinctly Australian flavour, with anecdotes from the author's experience with Australian IT intervention programs, comments from leading Australian women in IT, referencing many Australian researchers and with forewords by renowned author and feminist Dale Spender and open government advocate Pia Waugh.

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Sonja Bernhardt OAM

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Sonja Bernhardt
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women in IT, technology, gender imbalance, intervention programs, women, information technology




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