As society evolves to become more dependent on science and technology for growth and development, the occupational segregation of women in the sciences relative to men, not only in terms of absolute numbers but also in terms of visibility in the upper echelons of the professions, represents a misuse of scarce human capital and continues to alarm academics, policy makers and mainstream commentators (Hatchell & Aveling, 2008).
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As observed by a number of scholars (e.g., Huffman et al, 2010; Benson & Yukongdi, 2005), it is indeed true that the gendered segregation of jobs and occupations in these critical sectors of the economy is a persistent characteristic in many labour markets globally, and is the proximate foundation of many forms of gender inequality.
An extensive and well established literature documents the destructive outcomes of gendered occupational segregation in science and technology fields (Deem, 2007), which include lower wages, expansive income disparities, fewer promotions, and less significant wage increases (Schweitzer et al, 2011).
The worrying trend being replicated in nearly all economies worldwide is that although more women are being absorbed in the fields of science and technology than ever before, they persist to be considerably outnumbered by their male counterparts (Jones, 2010; Bhatia & Amati, 2010).
It is the purpose of the present study to perform a critical analysis of why women continue to be underrepresented in the telecommunication industry in Europe and Middle East.
Towards the realization of this broad objective, this section sets out to sample and analyze extant literature on women’s occupational segregation in technology fields, with specific focus on the telecommunication sector in Europe and Middle East.
The section will, among other things, analyze existing literature on women in engineering and technology fields, the dynamics of occupational segregation of women in these sectors, barriers to gendered occupation equality, and issues that need to be addressed to encourage and retain women in technology fields.
It is imperative to note that due to paucity of Literature on women occupational segregation in the telecommunication sector, the analysis of critical literature will assume a broader scope to encompass segregation of women in technology fields based on the rationale that the telecommunication sector is technology-oriented.
Women in Technology Fields
Hersh (2000) cited in Kusk et al (2007) observed that although there have been marked increases in the number of women taking up technology-oriented occupations over the last two decades, women still remain a minority in these fields in nearly all countries across the world.
Indeed, according to Gillard et al (2008), as many Western technology-oriented organizations endeavour “…to recognize and validate difference through diversity policies, they in fact leave the power mechanisms of conformity unchallenged and intact, individualize the inequities, bypass tensions of coexistence, and actually reinforce and homogenize difference” (p. 266).
In particular, these authors note that although the telecommunication and information communication technology (ICT) workforce forms fairly new professional sectors, women persist to occupy a minority of positions and gender segregation that has been well documented in many other occupations is being simulated in the telecommunication/ICT industries.
Available literature demonstrate that women in telecommunication/ICT industries tend to be concentrated in particular occupational spheres, which are normally the lower skilled information technology (IT) jobs related to data entry, implying that women in these critical sectors of the economy comprise a marginal percentage of managerial, design, and software development personnel (Gillard et al, 2008).
Yet, according to Bystydzienski (2004), as increasing numbers of women get absorbed into the telecommunication/ICT professions, not only are they faced with a slump in salaries, status, and working conditions but they also have to contend with the domain of masculinity that is well entrenched in these sectors.
In other words, men still dictate access to, and advancement in, paid employment in telecommunication/ICT fields (Benson & Yukongdi, 2005; Hafkin & Huyer, 2007).
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Trends in the United States
According to a report released by the U.S. Department of Labour (2005) cited in Oswald (2008), women currently make up approximately 50% of the total workforce, but they continue to be segregated in many occupations, particularly in engineering and technology-oriented occupations. This gendered occupational segregation, it seems, has its roots in the educational achievements of women.
A report completed in 2007 by the National Science Foundation also cited in Oswald (2008) revealed that “…women earned only 29% of the bachelor’s degrees in math and computer science, 21% of the degrees in engineering, and 42% of the bachelor’s degrees in physical science” (p. 196). These disciplines form the foundation for a career trajectory in the telecommunication field.
Available literature demonstrates that leading women engineers and ICT experts in the United Sates are regularly burdened with concerns about not being taken seriously, perceived non-performance, exclusionary social dynamics, reliance on hostile workmates or seniors, and excessive pressure to imitate the male paradigm of doing science (Etzkowitz et al, 2010).
Such experiences, according to these authors, not only obstruct interpersonal relationships but frustrate the women’s capacity to reach their full potential, no matter how able or talented they are. A survey conducted by the U.S.
Bureau of Labour cited in Coder et al (2009) indicates that while women made up an estimated 43% of the information technology (IT) workforce in 1983, the percentage dropped to a paltry 26 % in 2008 in spite of the fact that the total IT workforce had more than doubled for the indicated period.
Trends in United Kingdom
Sappleton & Takrui-Rick (2008) posit that “…despite 30 years of equality legislation, women in science, engineering and technology in the U.K. remain severely underrepresented” (p. 284). Indeed, the U.K. has one of the highest levels of gendered occupation segregation in the European Union, particularly in science, engineering and technology domains.
Available statistics contained in a report by the Engineering Council UK (2004) cited in Sappleton & Takrui-Rick (2008) “…suggest that only 8% of those employed in engineering work and 15% of those employed in information, communication, and technology (ICT) work in the U.K. are female” (p. 285).
Current trends, however, demonstrate that organizations are increasingly realizing the intrinsic benefit of encouraging and retaining women in these fields though tangible results are yet to be achieved (Bhatia & Amati, 2010).
The limited success of intervention strategies aimed at achieving equal gender representation in these fields, according to Sappleton & Takrui-Rick (2008), can be partially accredited to the fact that, after “getting in,” certain influences obstruct women in the U.K. from “staying on” and “getting on” in the sectors in parity with their male counterparts.
In a recently concluded case study on network engineer training programs in Britain running the Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) module, it was demonstrated that career openings commensurate with their skills were substantially restricted for women employees in general, but particularly so for women single parents (Gillard et al, 2008).
A study conducted by Hafkin & Taggart (2001) cited in Gillard et al (2007) found that employers in the UK were reluctant to recruit women CCNA programmers and instructors ostensibly because women are poorly qualified and lack fundamental work experience.
Indeed, according to Gillard et al (2008), the “…employers frequently maintained that not only were the supposed physical and computational demands of the job too exacting but that it was too risky to permit inexperienced personnel to tinker with the vital network infrastructure” (p. 272).
Preferring to recruit men, this unconcealed stereotyped discrimination in expertise recognition has also been experienced by female telecommunication engineers and network administrators in other parts of the world, with job advertisements for telecommunication/ICT professionals frequently specifying male job applicants (Gillard et al, 2008; Hafkin & Huyer, 2007).
Extant literature (e.g., Bystydzienski, 2004; Benson & Yukongdi, 2005; Bhatia & Amati, 2010) demonstrate that once in formal employment in these technology-oriented sectors, however, women perform as well as, if not better than, their male counterparts.
Trends in Middle East
Although gendered occupation segregation is far more entrenched in the Middle East and other Arab-dominated regions than in other areas, Bhatia & Amati (2010) note that it becomes hard to dissect the problem due to paucity of statistical data, particularly sex-segregated data on gender inequality in the Middle East. However, various rationales as to why the problem is so deeply entrenched in the Middle East have surfaced.
Benson & Yukongdi (2005) posit that owing to religious and sociocultural barriers, many countries in the Middle East abide by a social convention in which women are widely expected to play a supporting role relative to men. According to Hafkin & Huyer (2007) cultural prohibitions in many countries in the Middle East restrict women from undertaking any gainful employment outside the home.
According to Benson & Yukongdi (2005), men in the Middle East are traditionally placed in core occupations and departments, and this becomes the basis for gender divergences in recruitment, promotion, training, rewards and decision-making authority.
Dynamics of Occupational Segregation in Technology Fields
Available literature demonstrates that in spite of their talent, ability, and opportunity, women continue to be underrepresented in engineering and technology-oriented sectors of the economy (Schweitzer et al, 2011; Bhatia & Amati, 2010).
This notwithstanding, it is indeed true that unlike other historically male-dominated jobs that have registered considerable gains in attaining gendered equality, many engineering and technology-oriented fields have remained noticeably unbalanced in terms of gender (Deem, 2007).
Still, other studies (e.g., Kusk et al, 2007; Coder et al, 2009; Kotsilieri & Marshall, 2004) have demonstrated that underrepresentation of women in engineering and technology-oriented sectors continue to widen as women engineers and technicians find themselves swimming against the tide of prejudice intrinsically reinforced by the social, cultural, psychological and economic realities of life.
A study by Hatchel & Aveling (2008) found that women telecommunication engineers are eight times more likely to be working part-time, while women in ICT-related fields are six times more likely to be working part-time.
This section aims to explore critical literature on the dynamics of occupational segregation in technology-oriented fields, with particular focus on telecommunication and ICT sectors.
Consequently, literature on the pipeline theory, the social constructionist perspectives, meritocracy and its implications, and organizational policies and culture, will be evaluated with a view to understand why the problem of gendered occupational segregation in technology-oriented fields continue to persist despite the spirited attempts by governments and organizations across the world to curtail the inequality progression.
The Pipeline Theory: Problem or Solution?
According to Schweitzer et al (2011), “…the pipeline theory suggests that increasing the number of women in male dominated fields should lead to more equality in the labour market…This presumes that women and men in the pipeline expect comparable career outcomes” (p. 422).
Given institutional, organizational and countrywide efforts to get girls into engineering and technology-oriented disciplines in institutions of higher learning, it was expected that, with a large proportion of women entering the engineering and technology fields, they would obviously filter into the traditionally male-dominated upper levels of these critical sectors in large numbers (Hatchel & Aveling, 2008; Franzway et al, 2009).
Indeed, according to these authors, the metaphor of the “pipeline effect” was based on the assertion that gender imbalances noted in engineering and technology-oriented occupations would be successfully dealt with once women overcame their reluctance to enter these sectors and acquire the requisite qualifications.
However, as has been demonstrated in a number of research articles concerned with assessing the reasons behind gender-based underrepresentation in the labour market, the movement of more women into the pipeline failed to correspond with the attainment of enviable trends for women careers, particularly when it comes to engineering and technology-oriented sectors of the economy (Schweitzer et al, 2011; Coder et al, 2009).
Hatchel & Aveling (2008) are of the opinion that the pipeline theory promised “…false hope as the pipeline turned out to be very leaky indeed” (p. 357).
This view is reinforced by a host of other scholars (e.g. Coder et al, 2009; Bhatia & Amati, 2010), who suggest that women are yet to achieve comparable outcomes relative to men in these sectors even after sustained efforts from various quarters, including organizations and governments, to “feed” the women into the pipeline.
Various scholars have attempted to dissect why the “pipeline effect” failed to deliver the intended outcomes, particularly in the attainment of comparable career outcomes for women in engineering and technology-oriented occupations.
Hatchel & Aveling (2008) maintain that the pipeline theory has several limitations that make it impossible for women to achieve comparable career outcomes. According to these authors, the theory “…posits a straightforward linear career progression that is quite restrictive and does not easily accommodate the more complex life-patterns of females” (p. 358).
Women employees have unique needs and demands, which in most occasions act as barriers to successful gendered occupation equality not only in the science fields but also in other areas (Gillard et al, 2008). These barriers will be discussed at length in the succeeding sections of this review.
Other scholars have observed that the pipeline theory fails to take into consideration the multiple layers of culture in its attempt to guarantee comparable career outcomes for women relative to men.
To understand the dynamics of occupational segregation and institute a framework which will enable women to achieve comparable career outcomes, therefore, “…gender must always be seen in terms of its cultural context, in which the intersection of gender and culture is closely linked to the issue of power” (Hatchel & Aveling, 2008 p. 358).
Lastly, the pipeline theory fails to account for why women are leaving science, engineering and technology-oriented organizations in large numbers relative to their male counterparts (Screuders et al, 2009), even after successful efforts made by various agencies to encourage more girls into science and technology at the school and even the undergraduate level (Hatchel & Aveling, 2008).
The Social Constructionist Viewpoints
Various scholars have attempted to explain the occupation segregation of women in engineering and technology-oriented occupations using the social constructionist perspectives.
Kotsilieri & Marshall (2004) are of the opinion that the experiences and characteristics accredited to women, portrayed in academia and industry as contributing to their current occupational segregation in engineering and technology-oriented fields, are not timeless and universal but are socially, historically, psychologically, and politically located.
To deduce that all women judge, think, or relate in distinctive and universal ways when making career choices, particularly in fields traditionally considered as male-dominated, inarguably denies the contextuality that frames behaviour (Benson & Yukongdi, 2005).
To better understand the social constructionist perspectives in general and, by extension, the contextuality that denies behaviour, it is important to explain the difference between sex and gender. Gillard et al (2008) explain that “…while sex reflects biological difference, gender – although often based on biological sex – is a social construction” (p. 264).
This therefore implies that individuals are born and straight away categorized as female or male, but with time obtain a gendered identity, that is, what it implies to be feminine or masculine.
These authors further posit that “…both gendered concepts are relational, that is, they are construed in relation to each other by defining what the female is not in relation to the Western masculine norm; this varies from one environment to another and shifts over time” (p. 264).
According to Bhatia & Amati (2010), one of the most elaborated features of the social constructionist perspective is the recognition that women and men are located divergently in society and that not all women or all men share similar experiences or challenges.
In pursuing the social constructionist line of thought, Gillard et al (2008) observe that the gendering of work, technology and indeed many other facets of occupational life and orientation “…constitute individuals as different types of value-added labourers can be made visible by documenting cultural values, beliefs, and activities, which contribute toward identity formulations, roles and responsibilities, and personal aspirations and opportunities” (p. 265).
Consequently, these authors underline a value preposition suggesting that the micro dimensions of our everyday existence, reinforced by community, organizational and institutional hegemonic philosophies and processes that maintains the normalized status quo, provides the basis for gendered occupational segregation not only in technology-oriented fields but also in other areas.
Meritocracy & its Implications
The concept of meritocracy came into the limelight in the late 1950s to denote a social system that prescribes to merit, talent and capabilities as the foundation for recruiting employees into positions and dispensing rewards (Castilla & Bernard, 2010). To date, opinion still remains divided on whether meritocracy promotes gendered occupation equality or occupational segregation.
As observed by these authors, “…advocates of meritocracy stress that in true meritocratic systems everyone has an equal chance to advance and obtain rewards based on their individual merits and efforts, regardless of their gender, race, class, or other non-merit factors” (p. 543).
This implies that men and women in engineering and technology-oriented occupations have equal opportunities for advancement despite the existence of gendered imbalances and barriers that may act to hinder one group, particularly women, to advance in their careers.
Indeed, meritocracy has been culturally accepted as a reasonable and justifiable distributive standard in many developed capitalist countries and organizations (Castilla & Bernard, 2010).
In her research, Deem (2007) noted that meritocracy is a universal value that is absolutely compatible with gendered occupation equality, ensuring that recruitment and promotion in the workplace is through open competition rather than through concession or networks of associates.
Critics of meritocracy, however, argue that the concept has failed to deliver equal gender representation in a number of occupations, particularly in the sciences.
In their research, Castilla & Bernard (2010) came up with what they called the ‘paradox of meritocracy’ to refer to a situation where organizations that prescribe to meritocratic principles were found to demonstrate greater bias in favour of men over equally competitive and performing women.
Many modern technology organizations, though based on meritocracy in recruitment and promotions, are heavily bureaucratized. Gillard et al (2008) note that “…the bureaucratization of gender guidelines all too often tends to reinforce institutional influence and silences those whose voices rarely get aired in the development forums where decisions are made” (p. 266).
Recent empirical studies as quoted in Castilla & Bernard (2010) found that occupational segregation continues even with the adoption of merit-based recruitment and reward systems, affirmative action and other diversity-oriented policies and strategies.
Indeed, according to these researchers, some organizational practices and procedures instituted to entrench the meritocratic paradigm in the organization have been found to negatively affect employees’ opportunities and professions, particularly those practices developed to diminish inequalities for women and ethnic minorities.
This assertion leads Bhatia & Amati (2010) to conclude that some organizational policies and practices supposedly adopted to enhance meritocracy are only factored in for symbolic reasons and do not in any way achieve their stated objectives.
For example, research has revealed that some organizational recruitment programs and reward practices intended to reflect the meritocratic paradigm act to increase gender and racial inequalities by virtue of the fact that they introduce bias into employee recruitment and compensation decisions (Baron & Cobb-Clark, 2010).
Deem (2007) noted at least two challenges with the conception of meritocracy in relation to gendered occupation inequality. First, the researcher argued that meritocracy hindered women’s recruitment and progress in key sectors of the economy due to the “…individualistic focus of meritocratic judgments that reward the successful and stigmatize the unsuccessful” (p. 617).
Meritocracy, it was argued, has the supremacy to transfer the responsibility for unequal recruitment and promotional results back onto the individual and consequently to stigmatize the unsuccessful applicants as unskilled or incapable.
A second challenge with meritocracy, according to this particular researcher, is the insinuation that it applies culturally and value-neutral standards to the recruitment and promotion of workers. However, it is unfeasible to develop totally neutral standards or evaluations by virtue of the fact that cultural and social ideals do enter into the recruitment and promotion processes.
Organizational Policies & Culture: Facilitators or Barriers?
A number of studies (e.g., Gillard et al, 2008; Bhatia & Amati, 2010) have attempted to offer a gender construction in which critical reflection is applied to how occupational segregation of women in science and technology fields, of which the telecommunication sector is an integral component, is woven in organizational, national and international policies, business practices and concerns, and public and private employment configurations.
Many organizational policies and strategies orient themselves to the unfounded paradigm that women posses less levels of human capital relative to men (Benson & Yukongdi, 2005).
Some organizational perceptions practiced in many countries, particularly in the Middle East, makes it permissible for occupations to be allocated along gender lines, implying that women are left with little prospect to develop the necessary work experience that is fundamentally needed in many technology-oriented organizations.
For example, men in the Middle East are traditionally placed in core occupations and departments, and this becomes the basis for gender divergences in recruitment, promotion, training, rewards and decision-making authority.
In a similar fashion a broad range of organizational policies and practices serve to prevent women from entering technology-oriented occupations.
Benson & Yukongdi (2005) point out the challenge of statistical discrimination, where organizations not only in telecommunication/ICT sectors but also in other fields make decisions on recruitment, promotion and training “…based on generalized data rather than on the actual experiences of individuals” (p. 287).
For instance, absenteeism data for all women in the firm would be utilized to evaluate the commitment of particular women applying for promotion while not taking into consideration other dynamics that are unique to women, such as maternity leave and family responsibilities. Such an orientation only serves to enhance gendered occupational segregation.
In line with this, it is indeed true that many organizations either do not have a statistical database on women occupational segregation or fail to collect such data in a consistent and regular manner, making it almost impossible to address the challenge (Franzway et al, 2009).
As underscored by Hafkin & Huyer (2007), the paucity of statistical data on gendered occupational segregation in the telecommunication/ICT sectors makes it difficult, if not unfeasible, to develop a case for the inclusion of gender issues in telecommunication/ICT policies, plans, and strategies to employers and policymakers.
Extant literature demonstrate that although there is a substantial increase in the number of women joining engineering and technology-oriented firms (Morganson et al, 2010), the gains are being watered down by misplaced organizational policies and governance issues, which ensure that women do not stay longer in these critical sectors of the economy (Huffman et al, 2010).
As noted by Hatchel & Aveling (2008), “…the issue is no longer one of attracting women into the sciences but rather one of keeping them there” (p. 359). Morganson et al (2010) observes that when women complete undergraduate training in technical disciplines, they persist to be underrepresented in these fields and are more likely to leave the labour force than are men.
A number of researchers (e.g., Bhatia & Amati, 2010; Bystydzienski, 2004; Franzway et al, 2009) have blamed the gendered dimensions of organizational culture for the high turnover of women in engineering and technology-oriented organizations, while others (e.g., Gillard et al, 2008; Hafkin & Huyer, 2007) argue that structural, cultural, interactional, and identity arrangements, even though irreversibly associated, are important classifications in understanding why women’s occupational segregation in engineering and technology-oriented fields can be fundamentally attributed to the gender subtext of organizations.
Barriers to Gendered Occupation Equality in Technology Fields
Many studies have been conducted over time to understand the reasons behind the current gendered occupational segregation of women in engineering and technology fields. Kusk et al (2007) is of the opinion that women’s success in engineering and technology-related fields is often contingent upon them adopting an overtly male career pattern, implying that male domination in these sectors is barrier to entry of more women.
This view is consistent with Morganson et al (2010) observation that the technology environment is often typified as a chilly environment, “…which tends to be male-dominated, highly impersonal and individualistic” (p. 169).
According to these authors, the lack of support in the traditional engineering and technology working environments may be particularly destructive to women given that a number of researchers and theorists have continuously emphasized the fundamental importance of personalized relationships and interpersonal associations to women’s psychological development and well-being.
The education system continues to be blamed for the swelling underrepresentation of women in technology-oriented fields, such as the telecommunication sector. According to Bhatia & Amati (2010), girls in institutions of higher learning observe that there are few women in science and technology fields and, consequently, make a conclusion that a career trajectory in these fields is more suitable for men than for women.
Faced with the knowledge of both the bleak and subtle obstacles that face women in the male-dominated science and technology fields, girls in colleges and universities opt out of the disciplines and orient themselves for other fields that guarantee better opportunities of educational and career success.
This view has been reinforced by Benson & Yukongdi (2005), who observe that “…education, and particularly higher levels of education, has been denied to many women as families and society place more emphasis on women’s role as mother and homemaker” (p. 287). As a direct consequence, few women ever make it to technology-oriented occupations because these fields traditionally require higher levels of education.
Historically, the image of technology fields have been perceived under the lens of complexity, time-intensive, challenging tasks, and involving machinery, and, consequently, both women and men continue to perceive engineering and technology fields as masculine both in nature and association (Kusk et al, 2007).
Gillard et al (2008) describe how employees in telecommunication/ICT fields, interacting across time and space, are constantly obliged to work long hours to accommodate divergent time zones and regularly operate in crisis mode with strict project deadlines while having to continually update the job skills in response to rapid shifts in technology.
In addition to these occupational demands, “…the mobile nature of these types of occupations often works to women’s disadvantage as they experience difficulties when faced with long hours, expectations of overseas travel, and participation in informal social networks” (Gillard et al, 2008 p. 271).
Benson & Yukongdi (2005) observe that even in instances where women have similar levels of education to their male colleagues, childbirth and family responsibilities implies that, for many women, gaining the pertinent and equivalent work expertise needed in technology-oriented occupations is impossible.
Academics and industry view the gender pay gap as a strong contributing factor toward continued gender segregation of labour in science, engineering and technology sectors. As observed by Blau & Khan (2007), women telecommunication engineers continue to earn substantially less than men even when they are tasked with the same responsibilities.
Many research articles (e.g., Blau & Khan, 2007; Franzway et al, 2009) have digested a positive correlation between gendered pay gap on the one hand and prejudice and discrimination on the other.
Baron & Cobb-Clark (2010) suggest that the notion of prejudice and its negative ramifications are readily transferrable to women versus men, while Etzkowitz et al (2010) conceptualized discriminatory preferences of women in engineering and technology fields as arising from an active desire by engineering-oriented organizations to maintain social distance from women due to their perceived family responsibilities, which negatively affect their performance and productivity.
To reinforce this view of normalized discrimination in the workplace, Hatchel & Aveling (2008) observe that many technology-oriented organizations are more likely to hire males than women, not mentioning that males working for these organizations are more likely than females to be given credit for ideas, concepts or work completed.
According to Etzkowitz et al (2010), women are expected to work twice as hard to prove that they are capable of becoming productive telecommunication engineers, systems analysts and ICT experts.
There is compelling evidence that women continue to be discriminated against in science and technology-oriented occupations due to their low levels of experience relative to men (Franzway et al, 2009).
As rightly pointed out by Blau & Khan (2007), “…the qualification that has proven to be quite important is work experience because traditionally women moved in and out of the labour market based on family considerations” (p. 9). Experience and the accumulation of skills that are fundamental in science and technology fields go hand in hand.
Consequently, available studies (e.g., Blau & Khan, 2007; Franzway et al, 2009; Deem, 2007) have demonstrated that women may particularly avoid career trajectories obliging large investments in skills that are distinctive to a particular endeavour mainly because of the fact that the returns to such investments are reaped only as long as the employee remains with that employer.
Indeed, many employers may exhibit reinforced reluctance to hire women for such occupations because the organization bears some of the costs of such sector-specific training, not mentioning that their fear is further compounded by the fact that they may not get a full return on that investment due to higher turnover of women telecommunication engineers (Jones, 2010; Bhatia & Amati, 2010).
The lack of benefits perceived to be unique to women has worked to the disadvantage of women in technology-oriented fields.
Indeed, Gillard et al (2008) posit that the majority of newly created technology and telecommunication occupations in developed as well as developing countries are predominantly found in the private sector, but the absence “…of benefits available means that women are unlikely to pursue these types of employment, instead having to opt for public sector work that is more likely to offer childcare provision, flexible hours, and maternity leave” (p. 272).
As some governments formulate policies aimed at passing legislation for these benefits, which are perceived to encourage more women into technology and telecommunication occupations, the full responsibility for availing them often falls into the hands of private sector employers who are then inclined to discriminate against offering job positions to women in a bid to circumvent the financial cost of affording these services and benefits (Gillard et al, 2008; Baron & Cobb-Clark, 2010; Franzway et al, 2009; Deem, 2007).
Benson & Yukongdi (2005) note that some organizations avail little in the way of family friendly policies or child care that would assist women professionals to deal with the role conflict arising from engagement with family related responsibilities as they perform organizational roles.
According to Kusk et al (2007), “…explicit admittance of a belief in gender differences serve as a mechanism to sustain the status quo of the gender order by affirming current inequalities and prejudices as a natural difference” (p. 111). Women traditionally are perceived to be more oriented toward undertaking family responsibilities than engaging in paid labour.
Where women engage in paid work, they nevertheless undertake major domestic responsibilities in addition to their organizational responsibilities. In many instances, as noted by Benson & Yukongdi (2005), the gender-based division of family responsibilities and domestic work leaves women with few choices but to downsize their professional ambitions to fit with their family demands.
In addition, some growth mind-sets have been found to influence girls into believing that they are not as good as boys in science and technology-oriented fields, and that men are more appropriate to venture into scientific careers than are women (Jones, 2010).
Consequently, when girls and women take a stand that they only have a fixed amount of knowledge that is undesirable in scientific careers, they are more likely to believe in the stereotype, lose confidence and self-belief, and eventually disengage from science, engineering and technology-oriented disciplines.
This implies that women career trajectories in the mentioned disciplines become misplaced early in life due to the stereotype (Gillard et al, 2008; Schreuders et al, 2009).
Inflexible and unfavourable organizational environment, reinforced by strategies and policies that are unfavourable to the progression of women in engineering and technology fields, have been blamed by leading scholars and practitioners as one of the foremost barriers to gendered occupational equality in these fields (Franzway et al, 2009).
Indeed, Kusk et al (2007) observe that some of the best women telecommunication engineers are opting to retire early and set up their own businesses because they can create the type of environment that is free of unfavourable organizational policies and working environment.
Encouraging & Retaining Women in Technology Fields
While it is clear that some of the issues and challenges contributing to gendered occupational segregation in technology-oriented firms represent the unique situation in a particular country, various studies have concluded that, in most cases, the problems and challenges are more universal in nature and scope (Benson & Yukongdi, 2005).
This implies that the solutions to the gender inequalities can also assume universal dimensions. Upon undertaking a comprehensive review of extant literature on continued occupational segregation of women in engineering and technology fields, Kusk et al (2007) noted that “…encouragement from family, friends, teachers and advisors is pivotal both in choosing and succeeding in engineering education” (p. 111).
Blattel-Mink (2002) cited in Kusk et al (2007) posited that “…true gender equality requires both that those individual women in scientific subjects should have strong career orientation and that structural, institutional and cultural environs should become more welcoming towards women” (p. 111).
Benson & Yukongdi (2005) posit that increased access to educational opportunities for women, particularly in tertiary-level course, could deal a major blow to gendered occupational segregation in technology-oriented fields.
Organizations and countries need to pass legislation that will minimize gendered occupational segregation in technology-oriented field as “…legislative reform constitutes an important component of any strategy to achieve equality in employment” (p. 289).
According to these authors, legislation can be instrumental in setting up a community standard, not mentioning that it can serve to demonstrate acceptable behaviour. However, legislation cannot avail a swift remedy to the embedded gender equality segregation in technology-oriented fields, and can lead to manifold informal strategies to outwit the intent of such legislation.
Countries also need to pass legislation that would allow the girl child to have access to technology in elementary schools with a view to downgrade or diminish the gendered stereotype that a career in technology is only meant for men.
According to Hafkin & Huyer (2007), “…ICTs impact men and women differentially, and in almost all cases, women have many disadvantages that result in their having less access to technology and therefore less use of it” (p. 26).
Etzkowitz et al (2010) observe that the access to technology in many countries across the world has allowed women to enhance their economic conditions, progress politically and widen participation in science and technology-oriented occupations for future generations.
Benson & Yukongdi (2005) are of the opinion that increased marketization of childcare and domestic work could assist women to achieve equal employment opportunities in technology-related sectors by neutralizing the division of domestic labour and the role expectations placed on women.
Increasing the range of governmental and organizational support mechanisms through marketization of these services will go a long way to assist women institute a more focused and equitable balance between work roles and family responsibilities.
This notwithstanding, the role conflict experienced by women as they attempt to balance their domestic responsibilities and organizational roles will only be assuaged when more substantial social, cultural and attitudinal change transpires within society (Benson & Yukongdi, 2005; Deem, 2007; Schreuders et al, 2009).
Coping skills and strategies should be taught in institutions of higher learning to make girls understand the barriers and limitations that women in engineering and technology-oriented curricula face and the coping strategies known to be effective in these environments (Morganson et al 2010).
These researchers posit that “…coping is a transportable skill that can continue to assist girls and women in overcoming barriers as they move forward in their careers” (p. 170). It is important to note that men and women cope in different ways; while men tend to cope by attempting to either alter the stressor (problem-focused coping) or ignore it totally (avoidant coping), women, in contrast, engage in social support coping.
Consequently, women must rely on others in the work environment not only for emotional support but as a way to deal with work or family related challenges and seek assistance from others to overcome the stressors (Morganson et al, 2010; Schreuders et al, 2009).
Lack of adequate social support coping mechanisms in technology-oriented organizations, therefore, may translate into recruitment of fewer women and higher turnover of women.
From the analysis it is clear that despite spirited attempts by governments and organizations to achieve equal gender representation in engineering and technology-oriented fields, the problem is far from over.
In countries which have achieved tangible outcomes in narrowing down the gap, “…the steady increase in participation of women in science is marred by the tendency of fields to lower in status as women achieve equality of representation, and by continued resistance to women reaching positions of authority” (Etzkowitz et al, 2010 p. 83).
Consequently, these negative progressions must be reversed if women are to enjoy the economic and social gains that are attached to the highly prestigious fields of science, engineering and technology.
Collecting and analyzing data on why women fail to make a tangible impact in these fields is a necessary prerequisite to achieving more gendered occupation equality in the industry.
As noted in a report by the United Nations Development Programme cited in Hafkin & Huyer (2007), “…without data, there is no visibility; without visibility, there is no priority” (p. 26). It is this understanding that provides the impetus for the next section, which aims to collect data to analyze why there are few women employees in the telecommunications sector in Europe and Middle East.
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