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 will lead volunteer students and industry professionals to conduct field interviews with women and men to identify observable behaviors that stimulate the feeling of “value” and represent being a “jerk”. We focus specific behaviors and situations that they have observed or experienced in the last 3-4 weeks in working meetings, interactions, and non-work life contexts. We will not discuss rape, sexual harassment or any behavior that involves inappropriate touching. The field data will be interpreted to capture key issues and behaviors organized into an affinity diagram to reveal patterns.

Next Steps: Once we collect data and identify key behaviors to recommend and avoid we will envision solutions: games, team techniques, and practices to help change these target behaviors. Together we will then choose what to develop and test.

Spreading the Word: 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 are gathering field data now. Help us find interviewees, do interviews, interpret the data and more! We will work with your time constraints!  Sign up to show your interest here.

Collaborating Colleagues: Thanks to Lillian Meg Rosen for helping to organize volunteers and Lacey Arevalo 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.