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Minority Women See Advancement Through Information Technology

Minority Women See Advancement Through Information Technology
By Ronald Roach

University Park, Pa.

When compared to middle class and professional minority women, poor minority women have higher expectations for social and economic advancement through opportunities in information technology (IT), including escaping poverty as a step to upward mobility, according to a researcher at Penn State University.

A study by Dr. Lynette Kvasny, assistant professor of Information Sciences and Technology at Penn State, finds that in contrast, highly educated, middle-class and professional women view IT as offering fewer opportunities for advancement, suggesting that IT and gender studies shouldn’t focus on women as a homogenous group. She based her findings on interviews with African American women participating in a 14-week computer-training program in 2001 in Atlanta. The research is detailed in a paper, entitled “Triple Jeopardy: Race, Gender and Class Politics of Women in Technology.”

“If you’re talking about developing programs in technology training, it’s important to understand the history and culture of the people you are working with and not just implement a standardized curriculum,” Kvasny says. “Populations of women have different and competing perceptions about technology’s potential impact on their life experiences.”

Many IT and gender studies have looked at women as a collective and have generalized from the experiences of middle-class women in the IT profession or studying at universities, Kvasny notes. These studies focus primarily on White women who feel marginalized in the White male-dominated IT workplace. In their perspective, technology skills and IT training may not lead to advancement or greater opportunities.

Kvasny says she sees the potential for IT skills to produce a different kind of empowerment for minority women. IT can improve minority women’s lives by giving them the skill set to organize to get a bus stop in their neighborhood, discover how to take a bad landlord to court, or learn how to file for child support, according to Kvasny.

“IT skills can be taken beyond the workplace to transform and shape inner-city communities,” Kvasny says. “Technology can build people’s capacity to learn and to discover their communities’ assets.”

Minority women also saw their technology training as helping them better connect with their children, who were being exposed to computers in day care centers and schools. Drawn to Biblical imagery and the Exodus metaphor, minority women consider Cyberspace as a promised land of economic betterment and societal inclusion, Kvasny says.

“Technology is like a beacon to these women who live in turmoil, uncertainty and danger; it offers a different version for them,” Kvasny says. “However, their enthusiasm masks the reality of the IT workplace. Unlike middle-class women whose job opportunities include positions as programmers and systems analysts, these minority women in my study will work in the service sector. But the new skills will keep them from being left further behind and help them progress.”

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