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Research Method

This page describes the methodology of the research study that was used to gather data to explore how women in the Dallas/Fort Worth area were able to obtain and sustain their leadership positions in IT. According to Creswell (2002), a research question provides the direction of a study within a limited scope. Research questions are “interrogative statements that narrow the purpose statement to specific questions” (p. 127). The guiding research question for this study was, “How do women in IT leadership roles perceive how they obtained and sustained their positions?” The subjects in the study maintained an IT leadership role at a Dallas/Fort Worth area company for a minimum of three years at the time of the study.

This study contributes to the limited research in this area and extends the study by Page (2005), which explored this phenomenon relative to women in the Washington, DC area. According to deMarrais and Tisdale (2002), “An interview is a process in which a researcher asks questions and a participant (or participants) responds with thoughts, perspectives, and narratives usually based on his or her experiences” (p. 116). This study consists of interviews with study participants in an attempt to understand their experience as women in IT leadership positions. Although exact replication is rare, a replication study builds on the findings of previous research (Mills, 2003).

This current study used the Page (2005) study as a model and extended its research design to include two key areas that the original Page (2005) design did not explore. First, Page (2005) focused solely on female executives, stating that “Generally, those positions are the caliber of CEO, chief information officer (CIO), chief financial officer (CFO), president, vice president, superintendent, administrator, commissioner, and sometimes director depending on the size of the organization” (p. 43). This study expanded the exploration of these phenomena to women not only in executive roles, but also those in the roles of chief technical officer (CTO), manager, supervisor and project manager. The additional roles were identified as IT leadership roles by the U.S. Department of Labor (U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2009). A second key difference is that the Page (2005) study limited the scope to female executives at IT companies. This study went beyond only IT companies to include women in IT leadership roles regardless of the industry, as the phenomena is not unique to only IT companies (Ahuja, 2002).

Women are under-represented in IT leadership positions when compared to their male counterparts relative to their population in the United States workforce (Ahuja, 2002). This qualitative phenomenological study attempted to identify reasons for these phenomena. The nature of the research question validated the choice of qualitative phenomenological methodology to understand this human experience. At the root of this study was the assumption that identifiable traits and skill sets contributed to women obtaining their IT leadership roles at companies in the Dallas/Fort Worth area.

This page presents the research method and design appropriateness, the study sample that was used, and the data collection process and analysis methodology. Additionally, ethical matters in research including the procedure for informed consent, confidentiality, and validity check will be explained. Reliability and validity issues for qualitative, phenomenological research will also be reviewed.

Research Design

A qualitative phenomenological study was the most appropriate research design for this exploratory study. Qualitative research enables a researcher to better understand the social situations, events, groups, roles or interactions (Creswell, 2002). Investigating specific characteristics and phenomena related to the participant population of women in this qualitative study provided the researcher with a clearer perspective of how some women have achieved their leadership roles in IT. Creswell (2002) reported that “qualitative research is generally used when the inquirer is interested in exploring and understanding a central phenomenon, such as a process or an event, phenomenon, or concept” (p. 62). Creswell (2002) stated exploration in a qualitative study is needed when limited research exists on a topic or when the issue has great complexity. Different from quantitative research, where the emphasis is on “collecting and analyzing information in the form of numbers” (Creswell, 2002, p. 41), qualitative research is best suited for situations in which the variables are unknown and the themes evolve as more participants are studied (Creswell, 2002).

Types of qualitative research designs include case study, critical social theory, grounded theory, narrative research designs, historical research, ethnography and phenomenology (Creswell, 2002; Moustakas, 1994). Qualitative research normally involves interviews, observations and document reviews (Creswell, 2002). According to Creswell (2002), the qualitative research inquirer is open to the direction of the study in order to learn from the participants as the participants describe the phenomenon under study in their own words. An assumption is made that each study participant will experience the same phenomena in a different manner. In qualitative studies, researchers focus on “a program, event or activity involving individuals rather than a group” (Creswell, 2002, p. 439). This process provides a focused and structured approach to understanding the experience of the individual versus the group (Creswell, 2002). Moustakas (1994) states that predefined, experimental designs impose unintended bias on the subjects.

Phenomenological research describes the meaning of a lived experience, and through the study of others that have shared the experience, provides a narrative account of the experience (Creswell, 2007; Moustakas, 1994). Given the emphasis on understanding the impact of the lived experiences on the career advancement of women in technology leadership positions, according to Moustakas (1994), phenomenology was selected as the appropriate qualitative research method for this study. This study employed one-on-one, semi-structured interviews to disclose the learned phenomena of the behaviors (Moustakas, 1994). The study used open-ended questions to encourage the research subject to build upon participant responses and experiences to set the direction of the interview (Seidman, 2006).

Appropriateness of Research Methods

A quantitative methodology would not permit the open-ended dialogue needed to develop a good understanding of the study participants’ path to obtaining and sustaining IT leadership roles at companies in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. Creswell (2002) stated that qualitative research offers an alternative to quantitative research by placing an emphasis on the viewpoint of the study participants. A quantitative research method would not have had the same effectiveness nor richness of responses from participants as a qualitative method for this research study. Quantitative studies seek to describe “trends and explain the relationship among variables” (Creswell, 2002, p. 58). Quantitative research is appropriate when using tests and measurement practices, statistical procedures, and/or research designs seeking a correlation between two or more concepts (Creswell, 2002). A quantitative approach would not have allowed for a comprehensive analysis of the process of interpretation discussed in Bogdan and Taylor (1975). Therefore, a quantitative research design was rejected for this study.

A case study design was considered for this study. According to Creswell (2002), a case study is used to describe an event, individuals or a program. A case study design is more appropriate when seeking to describe the activities of a group as opposed to “identifying shared patterns of behavior exhibited by the group” (p. 439). The goal of this qualitative phenomenological study was to identify the shared behavior of the group. The use of a case study methodology was not appropriate for this study as it would not enable the exploration of the shared experiences of the group.

A grounded theory design was also considered for this study. According to Neuman (2003), grounded theory design involves comparing data between diverse groups. A grounded theory design was not appropriate for the study because grounded theory design is “a theory that explains, at a broad conceptual level, a process, an action, or interaction about a substantive topic” (Creswell, 2002, p. 439). Different from the selected qualitative phenomenological method, grounded theory design has a focus on establishing an understanding of fundamental elements of experience at the beginning of a study.

The phenomenological approach was suitable for this study because the aim was to describe a lived experience rather than construct theory. Phenomenology involves detailed analysis of the experiences of a small number of participants to develop patterns of meaning (Larkin, Watts, & Clifton, 2006). According to Moustakas (1994), the phenomenological method of research provides a validated, rigorous, and systematic way for identifying invariant themes and addressing research questions. For these reasons, the phenomenological approach was selected over alternate qualitative research methods of case study, critical social theory, grounded theory, narrative research designs, historical research and ethnography (Creswell, 2002).