Women IT Technicians: moving through the glass partition

Herman, Clem and Ellen, Debbie (2005). Women IT Technicians: moving through the glass partition. In: Crossing Cultures Changing Lives: Integrating Research on Girls Choices of IT Careers, 31 Jul - 3 Aug 2005, University of Oxford, UK.


A study of the lives and careers of women ICT technicians offers a different perspective to other research which focuses on traditional educational routes into computing professions. As part of the JIVE Partners project funded by the European Equal programme, we have recently completed a research study using a qualitative longitudinal approach that followed 20 women ICT technicians who were training to become Microsoft Certified Systems Engineers. We found that their routes into ICT were complex and varied and had often involved crossing boundaries between jobs which are usually gender segregated. Rather than reaching a glass ceiling that blocked their upward progression, these women found ways to make a lateral transition through a ‘glass partition’ into areas of work that have traditionally been dominated by men.

Whilst women form significant numbers of those studying and working with ICTs, they are usually concentrated in administrative contexts rather than in technical occupations. Although precise figures are difficult to ascertain, there are few women working as ICT technicians or support staff and those that do work in these fields find that their career prospects are limited due to the attitudes and practices within this sector.

Women in the study had a range of technical job roles some of which spanned traditional gender boundaries. The majority of the women did not choose ICT as their first profession, and for many of them there was an element of luck or chance in their entry into their current job roles. While formal careers advice had been minimal, family members (male and female) were important influencers, either as role models or as a source of information and encouragement. Prior to entering work in technical areas of ICT, these women had a range of educational backgrounds; they were often quite highly qualified but not in ICT subjects. Career decisions and future plans were strongly influenced by work life balance considerations

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