Symbolic power, discourse and underrepresentation of women in IT

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Purpose The authors aim to contribute to the understanding of the enduring underrepresentation of women in the IT industry by analysing media discourse triggered by a campaign intended to encourage women to join the IT industry. Design/methodology/approach Internet media coverage of the Little Miss Geek campaign in the UK was analysed as qualitative data to reveal systematic and coherent patterns contributing to the social construction of the role of women with respect to the IT industry and IT employment. Findings While ostensibly supporting women's empowerment, the discourse framed women's participation in the IT industry as difficult to achieve, focused on women's presumed “feminine” essential features (thus, effectively implying that they are less suitable for IT employment than men), and tasked women with overcoming the barrier via individual efforts (thus, implicitly blaming them for the imbalance). In these ways, the discourse worked against the broader aims of the campaign. Social implications Campaigns and organisations that promote women's participation should work to establish new frames, rather than allowing the discourse to be shaped by the established frames. Originality/value The authors interpret the framing in the discourse using Bourdieu's perspective on symbolic power: the symbolic power behind the existing patriarchal order expressed itself via framing, thus contributing to the maintenance of that order. By demonstrating the relevance of Bourdieu's symbolic power, the authors offer a novel understanding of how underrepresentation of women in the IT sector is produced and maintained.
Underrepresentation of women, IT industry, IT employment, Framing, Bourdieu's symbolic power
Information Technology & People, 2023