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Washington State University
Dividend - Fall 2021 Features

Gender Equity Training Increases Opportunities for Women in Academic Careers

By Becky Kramer • Photo by WSU Photo Services

Michelle Carter wants to encourage more women to explore careers in the fast-growing field of information systems.

As part of that work, she’s a leading consultant on a $1 million National Science Foundation grant aimed at increasing the number of women professors in information systems.

Only about 28 percent of information systems faculty at U.S. colleges and universities are women. When women are underrepresented as faculty, it affects how female students view opportunities for careers in the field, according to Carter, an associate professor in the Carson College Department of Management, Information Systems, and Entrepreneurship.

“If we don’t see other women in certain positions, it’s harder for us to imagine ourselves in those roles,” she says.

Through the three-year National Science Foundation grant, Carter and her research collaborators at five other U.S. universities hope to make strides in gender equity, particularly in the numbers of women earning the rank of full professor.

As part of the grant, Carter will lead training on recognizing gender bias for the leadership and members of the Association of Information Systems (AIS), an international organization for academics in the field.

Carter, who chairs AIS’s diversity and inclusion committee, says she’s excited to have the professional organization as a grant partner. Gender equity work is larger than what individual universities can accomplish on their own, she says.

Understanding Gender Biases

Carter discovered her affinity for technology through a program to increase the number of tech workers in the United Kingdom. She was one of three women in her master’s program in computer science. After working in industry, she went on to earn her PhD in the United States and pursue an academic career.

Through training workshops, Carter will help others identify unconscious assumptions and biases surrounding gender in the field of information systems, which focuses on the application of technology in organizations and business.

“I can be guilty of unconscious biases, too,” Carter says. “Sometimes when I’m put on the spot to come up with a nomination for an award or a suggestion for a speaker, the person I choose will be someone whose academic career path is similar to mine.”

But measuring achievement solely on things like where people earned their doctorate, or which journals they publish in, has limitations, Carter says.

Women researchers, for instance, frequently publish about the use of information technology in society, such as improving communication for people with neurological disorders. However, top journals traditionally have focused on the use of technology in business, a male-dominated area of research.

Women also take on more service roles than men at work, which is less valued than publishing research or winning awards, Carter says.

Identifying Barriers to Women’s Advancement

As part of the grant, AIS will collect data identifying barriers to women’s advancement in academic careers, including promotions and tenure. The organization’s leadership will also craft policies to recognize women’s contributions to the field of information systems.

“In academia, we review each other’s work and recommend people for leadership. We’re not always aware of how our own socialization affects our choices,” Carter says.

“We want to help women fully participate in things like being considered to speak at conferences, receiving awards, and sitting on journals’ editorial boards,” she says. “That opens the door to more women achieving full professorships.”

Michelle Carter

We want to help women fully participate in things like being considered to speak at conferences, receiving awards, and sitting on journals’ editorial boards.