Welcome to the girls club
By Sacha Cohen
April 20, 2001
a minority in the field, women are not only succeeding in IT but helping
one another move up. These women may just give the old boy network a run
for its money.
and unbiased -- not everyone would use such terms to describe work force
management in the IT industry. Despite the visibility of high-profile
female tech execs such as Hewlett-Packard's Carly Fiorina, women are
underrepresented in the IT field in general and in the executive ranks in
particular. Historically IT worker pipelines have not been filled with
women. According to a study conducted by Arthur Andersen, young men are
five times more likely than young women to choose computer science or
computer engineering majors in school.|
Still some women are moving
up in the IT ranks and reaching out to help others do the same. They're
taking on the old boy network.
look up to
Monique Boea struggled against both financial and educational
odds to launch her IT career. When she made it, Boea, a Web developer at
Atlanta-based Interland, founded African-American Women in Technology
(AAWIT), an organization dedicated to the education, support, and
advancement of black women in IT.
Boea's role as mentor to other
women in information technology did not come to her easily. In 1997, while
working as an administrative assistant at a software company, Boea didn't
know HTML from XFL. That changed quickly when she discovered that some IT
staffers were making as much as $80,000 per year. Boea figured if they
could do it, so could she. Right then and there, she set out to pursue a
technology career. At first, she asked her male colleagues how they had
gotten into IT. Most of the men told her the field was "very difficult to
break into," and they said, "Just stick with what you are doing."
Despite their cynicism, Boea began teaching herself HTML and
Photoshop, pulling all-nighters and dragging herself to work the next day.
"I knew that as a woman -- and especially as a black woman -- I would need
to master [Photoshop]," Boea says. "I knew that the design aspect wasn't
going to get me 70K to 80K, so I took it a step further and learned Cold
Fusion and mastered that."
As she struggled by herself to learn
complicated software programs and the intricacies of Web design and
programming, Boea often wished for someone or an organization that she
could turn to for advice. Boea made a promise to herself: If she succeeded
in IT, she would help other women do the same. That promise was the start
of AAWIT, which features mentoring programs such as the Study Hall and Big
Through AAWIT, Boea has helped dozens of young
women pursue their career goals. One of the AAWIT women whom she mentored,
Terri Houston, graduated from college with a marketing major but wanted to
move into IT. Together, they devised a plan to help Houston reach her
then went on to programming. Houston now works as a Web
"Things are definitely changing for the better," Boea
says. "As women continue to get the quality training they need and the
demand for skilled technology work continues to increase, we will see even
more women succeeding in a once male-dominated field."
A global view
Early career experiences
also motivated Liz Ryan, founder of WorldWIT (Women in Technology) and
co-founder of UCentric, a Boston-based home networking provider. As a
human resources manager for U.S. Robotics in 1988, Ryan had no tech
background. "I met so many women who were in the minority in their
companies as technical professionals, as managers, and especially as
senior-level leaders in tech organizations. So I learned to deal with that
and learned how not to be marginalized as one woman among lots of men,"
To assist other women, Ryan started ChicWIT (Chicago
Women in Technology) in mid-1999, a Chicago listserv for businesswomen in
IT. That soon grew into WorldWIT, a group of region-focused e-mail lists.
Ryan says that mentoring is "a huge focus" for the groups. WorldWIT also
sponsors job fairs, speaker panels, and networking events.
men still far outnumber women on management teams, corporate boards, and
in venture capital firms, it is difficult to move up the corporate ladder
without their support. "That's OK by me," Ryan says, "I've had incredible
male mentors, and I value the support of lots of men in my 'sphere' -- but
part of WorldWIT's mission is to use the women contacts that we do have to
help each other."
GirlGeeks also helps women in technology. In 1985
when Kristine Hanna started her video editing career at film studio
Lorimar, she was one of the few women doing that sort of work at the time.
She felt isolated and intimidated.
"I was asked to sit on more
than one lap, and my head got patted way too many times. There were few
women around to mentor me, to go to for guidance. And the few women around
were trying to get into the old boy club, rather than helping other women
out. I can't blame them; they were just trying to advance their careers.
But there was still a definite lack of camaraderie and support," Hanna
Now Hanna says women IT leaders reach out to other women.
"In the past, there was the perception that if you were a woman who helped
another woman get ahead, you were either a feminist or stupid, because you
were just making room for the woman you helped to take away your job. I
think IT women are realizing that, in fact, by helping other women move
ahead, they are helping themselves since so much of the IT industry is
built on relationships. As more women are assuming senior positions, more
women are being hired to fill middle and entry level positions, thus
creating more opportunities for women."
Demand for tech workers may
be a "great equalizer" for women, according to a Techies.com survey. The
survey of tech pros found that the salaries of women in IT "are
essentially at par" with what their male counterparts earn during the
first five years of their careers. Study leaders credit the parity to
younger hiring managers who bring new work-force-building attitudes with
"fewer and fewer reasons to differentiate between male and female
employees." As experience grows, however, the wage gap appears. At the
five-year mark, women earn about 8 percent less than their male
Women hold a management
It's not just women who struggle with their
careers. Barbra Cooper, group vice president and CIO for Toyota Motor
Sales, in Torrance, Calif., believes that both men and women have
difficulty reaching the corner office.
"Difficulty in reaching the
executive ranks is equal in my mind between men and women since you need
to have brains, good instincts, good people skills and [you must be]
willing to put in the time to gain enough experience," Cooper says.
In fact Cooper sees women having an advantage over men in
management. "I think the outlook for women is good in leadership roles in
IT, because women are often better at building relationships,
communicating, and having the patience it takes to educate staff and users
and executives on the many challenges and complexities of business and
In fact, being a women in IT has been an overwhelmingly
positive experience for Lynn Caddell, head of the technology group at
Yellow Technologies, a transportation services company, in Overland Park,
Kan. In 1984, she joined Motorola as a software engineer and began her
technical management career. Currently, she has some 400 reports, of which
almost 50 percent are women -- a contrast to the usual staff makeup of the
mostly male-dominated transportation business.
experienced gender bias and discrimination. "I have never had any
instances in my career where I feel I've been held back or not taken as an
equal. Now maybe it's because I grew up with three brothers. Maybe it's
because I interact differently. I don't know."
Even so, Caddell
recognizes the importance of encouraging young women to enter IT. Her
company, Yellow Technologies, participates in the nationwide DeVry Her
World program. High school students and their counselors come in to the
company for a day, see technology demonstrations, and talk to employees
about their jobs.
"It is important for the young women to have
role models and mentors to show them that companies focus on your skills
and your ability versus the fact that you're a male or a female," Caddell
says. "With the decrease in the number of females choosing IT majors, we
must continue to educate women on the career opportunities in IT and other
more technical positions."
Ultimately, corporate America and female
IT leaders need to reach out to younger women and educate them about the
opportunities in the IT field, says Karen Kurek, partner in charge of
Arthur Andersen's Growth and Retention of Women (GROW) program. "They also
need to demonstrate that career advancement without compromising work-life
integration is a reality," Kurek says.
But the message conveyed
must be balanced. "My message to women I mentor is to develop a
perspective about themselves and who they are and what they may want in
business, since it requires a great deal of balance," Toyota's Cooper
says. "No matter what anyone says, to get to the top positions requires a
combination of dedicated mental bandwidth and plain, old-fashioned time
commitment to compete with the guys who possibly have a spouse who does
not work. Understand the trade-offs and learn to relax, especially as it
relates to how you go about navigating your career."
some successes, women still face obstacles in reaching the IT
Sacha Cohen is a
free-lance writer in Washington. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
||Women helping women in
* African-American Women in Technology
(http://www.aawit.org): A Decatur, Ga.-based nonprofit
organization dedicated to the education, support, and
advancement of black women in information technology.
* Association for Women in Computing
(http://www.awc-hq.org): Founded in 1978, the AWC provides
opportunities for professional growth through networking and
programs on technical and career topics. Annual dues are
approximately $42 and entitles members to job resources,
newsletters, membership directories, scholarships, and
* GirlGeeks (http://www.girlgeeks.com):
Founded in 1998 in San Francisco, this organization "provides
jobs, high-quality career training, and motivational services
and products for women using IT to prosper and grow." It also
offers a mentor-match program along with many other
* The Institute for Women and
Technology (http://www.iwt.org): The Palo Alto, Calif.-based
institute's mission is "to increase the impact of women on
technology, in education, design, development, deployment, and
policy; increase the positive impact of technology on the
lives of all women; and help communities, industry, education,
and governments accelerate and benefit from these increases."
* WebGrrls (http://www.webgrrls.com): Founded by Aliza
Sherman in 1995, this well-known organization now has chapters
across the world and abundant networking opportunities for
women in new media. Listservs and face-to-face chapter
meetings are offered.
* Women in Technology
(www.womenintechnology.com): This Washington, D.C., regional
association offers women involved in all levels of the
technology industry a wide range of professional development
and networking opportunities. WIT recently started a formal
mentoring program for members.
* Women in Technology
International (http://witi.org): WITI is an organization that
is dedicated to advancing women in technology. Membership
benefits include a jobs database, newsletter, networking
opportunities, and discounts on computer equipment, car
rentals, and training.
(http://www.worldwit.org): Founded in the mid-1999 in Chicago,
WorldWIT now reaches over 6,000 women in the United States and
abroad. At the heart of WorldWIT are 30 e-mail discussion
groups where women share advice and information about jobs,
careers, business and technical problems, "life-support"
issues such as personal services, and more.
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