A German literature major never anticipates a career in information technology, but Deborah Keyek-Franssen’s unconventional career path isn’t so uncommon among female IT officials on college campuses, she says.
Keyek-Franssen, the University of Colorado’s director of academic technology since 2007, said women often enter the IT field at an advanced age, because they didn’t major in computer science like their male counterparts who enter the field after college and have better chances for promotion after years in the profession.
That’s why Keyek-Franssen is co-director of the Colorado Coalition for Gender & IT, an organization that tracks the presence of women in technology and encourages girls and women to focus on computer science during their high school and college careers.
Keyek-Franssen’s education also includes degrees in women’s studies and higher education administration, giving her a background that allows for easier communication with University of Colorado faculty and staff members who don’t speak IT office jargon.
"I have an outsider status as someone who is not quite IT," said Keyek-Franssen, who worked as a campus IT analyst for nine years before becoming director of academic technology. "But I’ve always been one to push for technology in teaching."
Keyek-Franssen said the University of Colorado’s IT team works closely with professors in exploring a plethora of technology solutions to their challenges. For example, faculty members trying to establish a private online area that allows researchers, professors, and students to share documents and exchange ideas will get several ideas from IT workers, such as Facebook, Google Docs, or Ning.
"We want to help faculty find that sweet spot," she said.
Too often, female IT employees get computer training in non-technology-related fields such as human resources, Keyek-Franssen said. That training pays dividends, she said, but an academic focus on computers would give women a better chance to reach the ranks of campus chief technology officer.
"Women who are in IT don’t often come to it by being interested in computers in high school and then studying it for four years [in college]," she said. "They acquire it informally by working in other jobs and getting IT training here and there."
Research supports Keyek-Franssen’s assertion. A study conducted by the Colorado-based National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT) during the 2005-06 school year suggested that just 11 percent of women in the IT field earned computer engineering college degrees. More than 35,000 men earned computer science degrees in 2006, compared with fewer than 10,000 women, according to the research. The gender gulf in IT peaked in 2005, when more than 40,000 men graduated in computer science, compared with about 8,000 women.
The IT gap translates to the professional world, where, among Fortune 500 companies, only 15 percent of CIOs are women, according to the NCWIT research. And from 1980 to 2005, just 4.7 percent of U.S.-invented IT patents were credited to women.
After 11 years in the academic IT field, Keyek-Franssen said she’s accustomed to frequently being one of the only women in the room–a trend confirmed during IT meetings.
"I count the number of [men and women] in the room … and do the percentages in my head," said Keyek-Franssen, 46. "You just kind of say, ‘It is what it is, and I’m just going to work to make it better.’"