Male youth culture dominates IT workplace: book

While many women IT professionals say love their jobs, some of their experiences indicate that gender, pay and other inequities still exist, according to one researcher.

Krista Scott-Dixon, who teaches a course in women and technology at Toronto-based York University’s department of women’s studies, recently published a book on the topic. Doing IT: Women Working in Information Technology depicts the tech industry, from its boom in the ’90s to the present day, as dominated by a “male youth culture.”

“This is not just about gender but also about age and other demographics — the IT culture is not just a guy’s culture, but a young guy’s culture,” Scott-Dixon said.

Scott-Dixon’s research focuses on women and technology from a gender-relations perspective. For the purposes of the book she interviewed more than 50 women working in the industry. “[The process] involved hundreds of hours of in-depth interviewing, with me sitting down and talking to them one to three hours in a shot,” she said.

The women she interviewed held positions that ranged from entry-level programming and help desk, to Web design, project management and computer engineering. The interviewees included women working for IT vendors as well as those with IT-related positions in other industries, such as social services, health care and banking.

Scott Dixon combined the data gathered from those interviews with an analysis of Statistics Canada data from 1997 to 2003 on gender and work to create a snapshot of women’s role in IT.

The book’s main thesis is that there are certain trends intrinsic to women’s work in the labour market — such as lower pay and the idea of certain jobs being “men’s work” — that still exist in IT.

“The idea was that IT was supposed to be a new kind of work — it was supposed to break down a lot of barriers … but I argue that the familiar or old ways of doing things have persisted in the new economy,” she said.

One of the problem areas is long work hours — since women are still the primary caregivers in the home, they may find it difficult to balance their responsibilities at home with those at work when they are expected to put in long hours if they want to move ahead in their careers, she said.

Scott-Dixon also found that the “boys club” extends to companies’ after-hours culture. “There’s the idea of video game bonding that happens in a lot of these IT work places,” she said, adding that in most cases, female employees — and especially older ones — aren’t interested in that type of activity. “If you’re into video games, that’s great, but if you’re not, you miss out” on the opportunity to make connections and build relationships that help further your career, she said.

In another example, she said there was one all-male data centre she was aware of whose employees would regularly go out to strip clubs — something in which a female worker would probably not want to participate. “I don’t think that all workplaces bond that way, but I think … different people have different levels of access to the culture — and that kind of after-hours culture is where decisions get made and networks get built.”

However, Faye West, director of information systems at the Edmonton-based Alberta Research Council, said she didn’t agree entirely with these findings.

“I believe that…there is a small segment of the IT occupations of this country, in the high-tech sector and in the software development or coding kinds of jobs, where that (male youth culture) environment still exists,” but that is not the case across the whole industry, said West, who has worked in IT for over 30 years.

She disputed the perception of IT professionals working long hours by citing the latest Labour Force survey from Statistics Canada, published by the Software Human Resources Council every month, which found 84 per cent of IT professionals work an average of 30 to 40 hours every week.

“Obviously most of us are not sleeping in cots that we pull out from the broom closet. We’re not conforming to the guy-geek stereotype …. Probably over 90 per cent of us work plain, ordinary jobs, work nine to five in a nice office, and experience no more pressure than any other professional — and we make good money doing it.”

Bonding over video games is mostly part of the coding culture, and is not characteristic of the IT work environment in general, West added.

“It’s the software development companies where you have the clusters of 21-year-old guy geeks — these are the people who play video games. IT workers in provincial government offices and banks are no more likely to do that than anyone else,” she said.

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