Authors: Sally Smith, Colin Smith and Alison Varey
Abstract: Despite years of purposeful activity there is still a shortfall in the numbers of women enrolling onto computing courses in the UK and elsewhere, while many who join the profession then leave. This ‘leaky-pipeline’ phenomenon is a concern for employers and reduces the pool of role models for the next generation of women. Finding out more about how women move into computing roles and how their careers progress may help us understand the role of computer science education in improving the talent pipeline of women. The purpose of this study was to explore the experience of a small group of women in computing and technology roles as they undertook an innovative work-based MSc in Strategic ICT Leadership with a view to gaining insights into how they view themselves as ICT professionals to add to existing work on gender and ICT. The Masters course is designed for experienced ICT professionals and covers key concepts such as ICT strategy, governance and ICT system delivery as a means to develop personal leadership. The award is of value in terms of skills development and also external recognition for the students. Adopting the lens of identity as a way of framing their experiences, the study explores how these women construct and adapt their professional identities as their professional roles change. To ascertain how effective the course was in meeting its aim to transform the ways students self-identify as professionals, the paper reviews the literature on professional identity in the ICT sector and considers two specific research questions; how do women in ICT roles construct their professional identities as they move into leadership roles, and what factors contribute to the adaptation of identity? Semi-structured interviews deploying the life narrative approach uncovered insights into motivations and values held by women in leadership roles in ICT. Significantly, gender continues to impact the way professional women construct and redefine their identities as their careers develop. Professional identity was found to be closely aligned with organizational identity, with women showing clear commitment to organizational identities and allegiance to organizational mission and goals. The study also found that their leadership styles, in the absence of prototypical leaders, reflected their personal values. The importance of professional networks was highlighted and the course itself created new professional networks for the students. The study proposes that universities and employers should consider, through course innovation, the transformational potential of Executive Masters courses as a means to support individual self-definition as ICT leaders.
Keywords: Executive Masters; work-based learning; ICT professional identity; ICT leadership identity; identity adaptation; gender; computer science education