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Understanding Women’s Presence in ICT: the Life Course Perspective

Cecilia Castaño, Juliet Webster


Considerable effort has been devoted to reaching a gender balance in ICT professions, apparently to little effect.  Women still make up under 20% of ICT professionals in most OECD countries, and there is little sign of any substantial increase in their presence.  Perhaps we have failed to properly understand the factors involved in women’s absence, or to design appropriate remedial measures.  We may need to reconsider our approach to the issue.


In this paper, we advocate a ‘life course’ approach to the understanding of women’s trajectories through ICT studies and careers, situated in the structural and cultural contexts within which these trajectories unfold.  This approach has several advantages: it allows us to identify the main factors affecting women’s engagement in ICT at different points in their lives; it highlights the key transition and attrition points in women’s lives; and, it shows how their career patterns are shaped by domestic labour as well as workplace factors.  It crucially recognises the role of women’s own choices, as they shape and respond to their situations.  Several contextual issues also appear to be crucial in shaping patterns of women’s engagement in ICT.  In different countries, there are contrasting education systems, gender regimes and family structures, and employment cultures.  All have a decisive influence on women’s careers in the ICT professions in every country. Using this approach, we can identify life events and contextual issues which require targeted action, and thus differentiate practical priorities according to different circumstances.



ICT; women; gender; life course

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