A decade into the 21st century, women in nearly all progressive countries across the world continue to be disadvantaged in their careers relative to men. Despite sustained efforts by governments and industry to promote gender equality in the workplace, women persist to experience occupational segregation, wage disparities, fewer promotions, and less significant wage increases (Schweitzer et al., 2011).
This view is reinforced by Schreuders et al. (2009), who observes that occupational segregation, particularly in science and engineering fields, has been a matter of concern for governments and scholars worldwide.
Available statistics demonstrate that in spite of their talent, ability, and opportunity, women continue to be underrepresented in these critical sectors of the economy (Schweitzer et al, 2011), with Bhatia & Amati (2010) suggesting that the segregation is the direct consequence of social, political, and economic systems that continue to reinforce gender stereotyping and role expectations.
On her part, Bystydzienski (2004) posits that it is the lack of encouragement, mentorship, support and appropriate socialization to enter and remain in the sciences, engineering, or technology-related fields that is entirely to blame for the few number of women exhibiting interest in these fields.
Although many research studies (e.g., Baron & Cobb-Clark, 2010; Coder et al., 2009; Franzway et al., 2009; Morganson et al., 2010) have been initiated in a focused attempt to understand the reasons behind the noted occupational segregation of women in science and engineering fields, only a handful (e.g., Kotsilieri & Marshall, 2004) have attempted to evaluate the trajectories of these dynamics from an industry-specific perspective.
Furthermore, these studies do not attempt to place the findings in a broader, historical, and institutional context, not mentioning that they lack the comparators necessary to understand the problem within a wider social and geographical context.
It is these gaps in knowledge that provide the impetus to undertake the present study, which aims to understand why there are few women in the telecommunications sector in Europe and the Middle East.
Background of the Study
Schreuders et al. (2009) observe that “…unlike other historically male-dominated occupations that have seen gains in achieving gender equity, many sciences, math, and engineering fields have remained peculiarly unbalanced in terms of gender” (p. 97).
Other research studies (e.g., Kusku et al.; 2007; Coder et al., 2009; Kotsilieri & Marshall, 2004) demonstrate that underrepresentation of women in engineering and technology-related fields 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.
These assertions are supported by well-documented data. A survey conducted by the U.S. Bureau of Labor and cited in Coder et al (2009) indicates that while women made up an estimated 43% of the information technology (I.T.) workforce in 1983, the female percentage dropped to a paltry 26 % in 2008 in spite of the fact that the total I.T. workforce had more than doubled for the indicated period.
Of course many research studies have been progressed to understand the dynamics involved in this type of occupational segregation, but it still remains unclear exactly why women remain a minority in engineering and technology-related fields (Coder et al, 2009).
Indeed, extant literature demonstrates that many women hold the necessary educational background and resources to venture into these technical fields, but end experiencing impediments for reasons not fully under their control (Kotsilieri & Marshall, 2004).
This notwithstanding, various theoretical orientations have been advanced to explain the perceived lack of gender representation in engineering and technical fields, and what could be done to contain the situation from further deterioration. The present paper will heavily rely on two of such theoretical conceptions, namely the social constructionist theory and the pipeline theory.
In considering how women view their abilities and position themselves in relation to their male counterparts, this Research is profoundly influenced by social constructionist doctrines as the experiences and characteristics accredited to women, portrayed by academia and industry as contributing to their current occupational segregation in engineering and technology-related fields, are not timeless and universal but are socially, historically, psychologically, and politically located (Kotsilieri & Marshall, 2004).
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 behavior (Benson & Yukongdi, 2005).
Consequently, this study attempts to understand the reasons why there are few women in telecommunication industry by comparing experiences of women in two continents, Europe and the Middle East, with a view to comprehensively cover the differences that may arise from the diverse contextual and geographical backgrounds.
The present study will also draw upon the pipeline theory to analyze why women are yet to achieve equal representation in engineering and technology-related fields, with specific reference to the telecommunications industry in Europe and the Middle East.
As highlighted by 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 labor market…
This presumes that women and men in the pipeline expect comparable career outcomes” (p. 422).
However, as has been demonstrated in a number of research studies concerned with evaluating the reasons behind gender-based underrepresentation in the labor market, the movement of more women into the pipeline has not resulted in enviable treads for women careers, particularly when it comes to engineering and technology-related disciplines (Schweitzer et al, 2011; Coder & Rosenbloom, 2009).
Much attention will, therefore, be focused on understanding why women are yet to achieve comparable career outcomes with their male counterparts in the telecommunications sector, and the various alternatives that could be implemented to remedy the disparity.
Issues of meritocracy and social-cultural orientations will be comprehensively discussed and evaluated with a view to synthesizing the obstacles that come into play to hamper more women representation in the telecommunications sector in Europe and the Middle East.
Advocates of meritocracy are of the opinion 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” (Castilla & Bernard, 2010 p. 543).
Inside organizations, a fundamental strand of this study will concern how organizational policies and strategies affect employees’ opportunities and careers, particularly those policies and strategies designed to reduce discrepancies for women working in technical-oriented disciplines.
In equal measure, previous studies have identified aspects of entrenched masculine culture, social-cultural dynamics, and weak coping mechanisms as major reasons for lower representation of women in technical disciplines such as telecommunications engineering (Kotsilieri & Marshall, 2004; Morganson et al., 2010).
Indeed, Franzway et al (2009) posit that “…although women are as competent as their male colleagues in the technical dimensions of engineering, the gendered expectations and processes within engineering organizations are an entrenched problem for women’s careers” (p. 91).
The rationale of the Research
This study arises from the need for organizations and governments to develop policies, plans, and strategies that can be used to inform effective policy-making with regard to inclusion of more women into career fields traditionally considered as male-dominated.
The paucity of statistical data on the underrepresentation of women in technical fields in other countries, with the exception of the United States (Blau & Kahn, 2007), have often served as a reinforcing agent for ineffective and undirected policies that continue to be developed by organizations and governments in their bid to reverse the gendered disadvantage.
Second, the study is informed by the need to develop tangible alternatives that can be used by organizations to not only encourage more women into engineering and technical fields but also to retain them. Extant Research demonstrates that women have unique capabilities and talents that could be used by organizations to attain optimal productivity and competitiveness (Kotsilieri & Marshall, 2004).
Equally, evidence has been adduced to the fact that more women than men are likely to leave employment in technology field (Franzway et al, 2009), due to a myriad of reasons which will be covered comprehensively in this study.
Moreover, the results of this study can be used by educational institutions to develop academic and career paradigms that will encourage more women into the technical disciplines, with the hope that a high uptake of women will translate into equal representation in the labor market.
Aim & Objectives of the Study
The general aim of this study is to critically evaluate the reasons why there are few women in the telecommunications industry in Europe and the Middle East. The following forms the specific objectives of the study:
- To critically analyze how women are impacted negatively as a result of employment discrimination in the telecommunications industry;
- To critically evaluate the interplay between meritocracy and social-cultural and psychological variables in entrenching occupation discrimination along with gender, and;
- To analyze and report on probable alternatives that could be used to alleviate gendered occupation discrimination in the telecommunications industry in Europe and the Middle East.
Based on the above objectives, this study aims to address the following research questions:
- What are the current practices and polices used by telecommunications firms in Europe and the Middle East to ensure gendered occupation equality in the field?
- What issues within the meritocratic and social-cultural, psychological, geographical and political contexts could be serving as obstacles to gendered occupation equality for telecommunications firms in Europe and the Middle East?
- What are the current trends in occupation discrimination in telecommunications organizations in Europe and the Middle East?
- What are the alternatives being sought by organizations and governments in the two continents towards addressing the women underrepresentation in telecommunications industry?
Scope of the Study
Although the study makes frequent mention of women in science, engineering and technology-related fields, its analysis excludes all the other women working in the above-mentioned fields apart from those specifically working in telecommunications and information technology (I.T.) fields.
The study does not deal with the position of the management of the selected organizations regarding occupational segregation but focuses attention to understanding the dynamics involved from the female worker’s perspective and the official policies and strategies relating to occupational segregation of women in telecommunications industry within a wider continental context.
This implies that the results gravitate more towards attempting to understand why there are few women in the field within a specific social, geographical and political context.
Structure of the Dissertation
The above forms the introduction section of this study, which has laid the groundwork for the subsequent sections. This section, among other things, have demonstrated the direction that this study takes by discussing the problem, stating the research aim and objectives, and discussing the rationale of the study.
The following section will revolve around critically discussing the available literature on occupational segregation of women in science and engineering fields, with particular reference accorded to Europe and the Middle East. The methodology, the third section, focuses on discussing the study design, population and sample, data collection techniques, and how the data for this study has been analyzed.
The results are presented in section four, under findings, analysis and discussion. This study concludes by outlining some conclusions, recommendations and future research areas in section five.
The present study aims to analyze why there are few women in the telecommunications industry in Europe and the Middle East. Towards this purpose, the study relies on two theoretical conceptions, namely the social constructionist perspective and the pipeline theory, to evaluate the impact of occupational segregation in this critical sector, and the alternatives that could be developed to reverse the trend.
Consequently, the deliverables include, but not limited to:
- understanding how women in the telecommunications sector in Europe and the Middle East view their abilities and position themselves in relation to men;
- understanding why women are yet to achieve equal representation in technology-related fields;
- understanding how issues of meritocracy and social-cultural, political, psychological, and geographical orientations impacts women representation in these fields,
- understanding how organizational policies and strategies within the wider continental context could be modified to encourage more women into science, engineering and technical-related fields.
List of References
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Benson, J., & Yukongdi, V (2005). Asian Women Managers: Participation, Barriers and Future Prospects. Asian Pacific Business Review, 11 (2), pp. 283-291.
Bhatia, S., & Amati, J (2010). ‘If these Women can do it, I can do it, Too’: Building Women Engineering Leaders through Graduate Peer Mentoring. Leadership & Management in Engineering, 10 (4), pp. 174-184.
Blau, F.D., & Kahn, L.M (2007). The Gender Pay Gap: Have Women gone as Far as they Can? Academy of Management Perspectives, 11 (2), pp. 283-291.
Bystydzienski, J.M (2004). (Re)Gendering Science Fields: Transforming Academic Science and Engineering. NWSA Journal, 16 (1), pp. 8-12.
Castilla, E.J., & Bernard, S (2010). The Paradox of Meritocracy in Organizations. Administrative Science Quarterly, 55 (4), pp. 543-576.
Coder, L., Rosenbloom, J.L., Ash, R.A., & DuPont, B.R. (2009). Economic and Business Dimensions: Increasing Gender Diversity in the I.T. Workforce. Communications of the ACM, 52 (5), pp. 25-27.
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Kotsilieri, F., & Marshall, J (2004). Hellenic Women Managers in the Telecommunications Sector: Living in Transition. New Technology, Work & Employment, 19 (3), pp. 177-191.
Morganson, V.J., Jones, M.P., & Major, D.A (2010). Understanding Women’s Underrepresentation in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics: The Role of Social Coping. Career Development Quarterly, 59 (2), pp. 169-179.
Schreuders, P. D., Mannon, S.E., & Rutherford, B (2009). Pipeline or Personal Preference: Women in Engineering. European Journal of Engineering Education, 34 (1), pp. 97-112.
Schweitzer, L., Ng, E., Lyons, S., & Kuron, L (2011). Exploring the Career Pipeline: Gender Differences in Pre-Career Expectations. Industrial Relations, 66 (3), pp. 422-444.