College of Computing and Digital Media Dissertations

Date of Award

Spring 6-2007

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


School of Computing

First Advisor

Dr. Linda V. Knight

Second Advisor

Dr. Gian Mario Besana and Dr. Thomas Muscarello

Third Advisor

Dr. John Rogers and Dr. Raffaella Settimi


The under-representation of women in the IT profession is a well-known Information Systems phenomenon. Unlike the other sciences and mathematics, where the percentage of women receiving bachelor’s degrees has increased over the past two decades, the percentage of women obtaining degrees in technology has decreased. Information Technology started strong in 1984 with 37.06% women receiving bachelor’s degrees; however, 2004 brought a decrease to a low of 25.05%, near the level of three decades earlier. The consequences of this under-representation include non-diverse IT solutions, a predicted IT workforce shortage, and the United States losing its ability to participate as a fervent technological contributor in a global arena. Despite the importance of this issue, previous research has yielded isolated and often conflicting results. Past researchers have concentrated on small subsets rather than examining the complete breadth of barriers to the recruitment and retention of women in the IT field. This research consisted of seven major activities. First, a four-staged IT Career Lifecycle model was developed which advances the work of prior research. Second, it was determined that the specific scope and focus of this research would consist of Stage I of the IT Career Lifecycle model at a point where high school girls are considering college majors. Third, a literature review was conducted to establish a comprehensive list of Stage I barriers that have been identified by previous researchers. Fourth, a second new model was established that identifies and classifies all of the Stage I barriers identified by the literature. As part of this model’s development process, fourteen barriers were analyzed, summarized, and categorized into three sources: the girls, the IT community, and the societal influencers. Fifth, fourteen hypotheses were developed to validate the Stage I Barriers Model. Sixth, a survey was conducted to validate the Stage I model, determine the most prevalent barriers, identify new barriers, and capture the attitudes and perceptions of high school girls regarding the IT profession and its workers. The survey was administered to 417 female junior and senior girls in four high schools in the Chicago metropolitan area. Seventh, the Stage I model was reconstructed to incorporate the knowledge gained from the survey. Thus, through the process of this research, the reconstructed Barrier Model was grounded in research literature and validated through the “real world” view of high school girls’ attitudes, perceptions, and interests in computers and IT careers.

Although the goal of the survey was to examine barriers to high school girls’ entry into the Information Technology field of study, findings went beyond that, falling into three main categories: barriers, enablers, and predictors. As expected, some of the findings identified significant barriers that were incorporated into a reconstructed Barrier Model. However, some results uncovered factors that were clearly, not identified as barriers by the participants. Consequently, some originally proposed barriers were reclassified as enablers and others as predictors of IT majors. Still other factors were recognized as having the potential to be classified in more than one way, barriers, enablers, or predictors. Since the original scope of the research incorporated barriers only, a framework did not exist to capture significant findings on enablers or predictors. Therefore, two additional models were developed, the IT Career Enabler and the IT Career Predictor. Additionally, this research created a new Pre-College IT Career framework to contain the three models, embracing factors that may influence high school girls in their potential pursuit of IT careers.



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