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I am a M.A. in industrial/organizational psychology. Most of my experience has been in human resources and change management. My passion lies in employee assessment, organizational development and employee opinions. Website: www.IanMondrow.com LinkedIn Profile: http://linkd.in/drBYoC

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Gender Schemas: A Cognitive Explanation of Discrimination of Women in Technology

Source: Lemons, M.A., Parzinger, M. (2007). Gender schemas: a cognitive explanation of discrimination of women in technology. J Bus Psychol, 22, 91-98.

Summary by: Ian B. Mondrow, M.A. 

Gender schema theory suggests that gender expectations are based on previous experiences with role expectations for each biological sex. The schemas are developed as a result of observing common behaviors among sexes repeatively. It is suggested that humans develop these schemas to assist in interpreting new information for the future. The Gender Schema Theory derives from the social learning theory and the cognitive-development features (Bem, 1981). Social learning theory states that children internalize the a framework of each sex based on the social practices observed in a culture. The cognitive-development theory proposes that once a child understands the framework, he/she begins to develop  a self-identity based on sex expectations.

According to Guten and Cohen (1992), employees are more aware of their coworker's sex than any other attribute (i.e. religion, race, age, etc.). Between 1996 and 2002 there was only a slight increase from 25% to 25.3% for the percentage of IT professionals that are women (ITAA,2003). There is also a difference in performance in regards to gender. When a man succeeds, it is because he is skilled but a woman who has the same success is often perceived as luck. Furthermore, when a man fails, it is a result of bad luck. However when a woman fails, it is a result of inability (Deaux & Emswiller, 1974; Feldman-Summer & Keisler, 1974); Taynor & Deaux, 1973). Given these current hurdles for women, the researchers of this study decide to survey Syster members about their experiences as a female professional in the IT industry compared to the general working woman.

218 responses were obtained from working professionals (that were female) and 85 males in college studying an IT related major. The male responses were only utilized to obtain a comparison of the gender schemas for men. Participants answered questions from the Helreigh's Attitudes Toward Women Scale (AWS), which contains 15 items that evaluate one's perceptions of the rights and roles that women should have.

Results found that women in IT (M =3.45, SD =.30) were perceived to have less gender schemas than women in general (M = 4.07, SD = .57), F(3,491) = 108.40, p < .01. Men in IT (M =3.43, SD = .628) also had lower levels of gender schemas than men in general (M = 3.71, SD = .58), F(27,175) = 58.23, p < .01. This suggest that the IT industry enforces traditional gender stereotypes [for both sexes] more often than other industries. Encouraging others to adhere to the traditional gender-schemas increases the probability of stereotyping of woman (which was described in the second paragraph) and their behaviors that can result in dissatisfaction or stress in the workplace. Women in the IT industry continue to battle the negative stereotypes that other industries have overcome. 

The study has a variety of limitations. First off, more participants are required to make a general assumption of the overall IT industry. In addition, the males that participated in this study were not working professionals and therefore their experiences were limited. Finally, the researchers did not conduct a statistical analysis to determine if gender-scheming differed between men and women within IT. I would have found that information beneficial when reading an article with a title like this.

This study focuses mainly on the IT industry. Therefore it could provide helpful insight to HR representatives within IT companies. Gender stereotyping still exists and to overcome it, employees need to be educated on inappropriate behavior and corrected when they portray these negative stereotypes. Diversity training can be helpful by starting all employees on a clean slate and enforcing the notion that all individuals can perform equally well regardless of attributes. Training alone is not enough because comments that occur in meetings or side-conversations can set a tone that permits the gender stereotyping.

Although more prominent in the IT industry, this reveals to HR professionals that the need to battle sexism still exists. Organizations need to emphasize that anyone can achieve with the right attitude and hard work. Walk around your office and listen to conversations. Do you hear comments that could enforce negative gender-schemas?

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