Research: What is Valuing vs “Jerk” Behavior?
How behavior impacts a positive working experience

The Problem: For the last 40 years we’ve been encouraging women to choose technology careers. But today’s statistics on women in tech are not encouraging. The quit rate for women is 41% compared to 17% for men.

Even with extensive efforts to recruit women into technology, the number of women has fallen from 31% in 1990 to 25% in 2014. Anita Borg reports that women described cultural values specific to high tech companies that worked against women. Level Playing Field Institute finds that IT workplace experiences vary significantly by race and gender; women and people of color have significantly more negative workplace experiences. At WITops our research finds that women “thinking of leaving their jobs” score lower on factors that matter for women to thrive.

Value vs. Jerk: Issues related to interpersonal dynamics and bias have long been identified as putting women and underrepresented people at a disadvantage. Years of bias awareness and workshops have not eradicated the problem. Women often state, and our research confirms, that women don’t feel valued or heard. They say that men, managers, or teammates are “bro’s” or “jerks”. But what does this mean? Behavior creates or undermines connection and value. So we focus on understanding which behaviors are experienced as valuing in everyday work and which result in naming the other as a “jerk”. Using the data we generate and test interventions and solutions.

The Project

Research: Using the time-tested Contextual Design approach Karen Holtzblatt led volunteer students from the University of Maryland’s HCIM program to conduct 26 field interviews with women and men from 25 to 45 years old working in a wide variety of job and technology industries. The interviews were focused on finding observable behaviors that stimulated the feeling of “value” and represented being a “jerk”. Interviewees were asked to describe incidents of valuing and jerk behavior that they experienced, witnessed or did over the last month. We collected incidents from working meetings, manager and co-worker interactions, and from non-work life contexts. The field data was interpreted to capture key issues and behaviors and was then organized into an affinity diagram to reveal patterns. We have now identified 16 key valuing and 16 key jerk behaviors.

Ideation: Using the data we are generating processes, artifacts, games, and apps to increase awareness and to stimulate more valuing and less jerk behavior at the workplace. These approaches will be tested and iterated.

Next Steps: We are now creating a survey to widen our data. We will also be conducting action research to test and hone a variety of interventions to help influence these target behaviors.

Spreading the Word: Karen will give a webinar introducing the project and findings in December. All findings and solutions will be shared on the WITops website as well as in blogs, papers and conferences.  

Donate: This work is supported by a core team of researchers and administrators. Please help us cover our core costs by donating to the general fund.

Join the Team

Volunteer Opportunity:  We will put out a call for participation in the survey in Q1. Please spread the word. We will also be looking for teams and managers to try some of our intervention ideas. Sign up to show your interest here.

Collaborating Colleagues: Thanks to Lillian Meg Rosen for helping to organize volunteers and Lacey Arevalo and Naishi Jain for project managing this research effort.

Benefits for Participants: Anyone working on the project will receive acknowledgement on the WITops website. They may also co-author a paper, or participate in a session at CHI, Grace Hopper, or other venue. They will have the opportunity to contribute to change in our industry and work directly with Karen on the issue of retaining women in tech.