PULLMAN, Wash. – Only about 28% of information systems faculty at U.S. colleges and universities are women, but that’s a statistic Washington State University researcher Michelle Carter is working to change.
Carter, an associate professor in the Carson College of Business, is a leading consultant on a $1 million National Science Foundation grant aimed at increasing the number of women professors in information systems.
When women are underrepresented as faculty members, it affects how female students view opportunities for academic careers in information systems, according to Carter.
“If we don’t see other women in certain positions, it’s harder for us to imagine ourselves in those roles,” said Carter, a faculty member in the college’s Department of Management, Information Systems, and Entrepreneurship.
Through the three-year National Science Foundation grant, Carter and her research collaborators at five other 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, said 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, according to Carter.
“To create change for women academics across the system, we recognized that we needed AIS leadership to get involved and lead the way,” she said.
Understanding gender biases
Carter, a first-generation college graduate, discovered her affinity for information systems through a program to increase the number of technology workers in the United Kingdom. After working in industry, she went on to earn her Ph.D. 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.
“I can be guilty of it, too,” Carter said. “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. “There are many different ways of being successful in academia,” she said.
Women researchers, for instance, frequently publish about the use of information technology in society, such as improving communication for people with neurological disorders, she said. 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 said.
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 said.
“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 said. “That opens the door to more women achieving full professorships.”