Employers' Mixed Signals to Women in IT: Uncovering how Gender Equality Ideals are Challenged by Organizational Context
Digitalization across sectors drives an increasing demand for IT specialists. Women, however, still make up a small part of computing communities, IT education and work – in the US and across Europe. The "gender equality paradox" is a label for women's underrepresentation in STEM disciplines, particularly in IT, that seems to be more extreme in highly gender egalitarian cultures. It has been suggested that the paradox is a result of women's choices in wealthy countries with a high degree of individual freedom. However, our research suggests that there is another side to this paradox, thus demonstrating the importance to recognize how other groups affect women's participation in IT. Our study of attitudes towards women's underrepresentation in IT among IT employers and organizations uncovers mixed signals from these actors, as they both welcome and doubt women in IT. Employers' negotiation of the meaning of women's underrepresentation in IT leaves little space for gender equality actions. While this can have major consequences for women's careers in computing and IT work, it also illustrates a central mechanism of the "gender equality paradox" characterized by a widely accepted norm of gender equality existing alongside employers' skepticism to the goal of gender balance in computing.