Where Are All the Women IT Leaders?
It will come as no surprise to readers that, according to this month's survey, men overwhelmingly outnumber women in IT leadership positions (86.1 percent versus 13.9 percent). What is surprising, however, is that 16.4 percent of IT executives over 40 are female, while only 7.8 percent of those under 40 are—less than half as many. Clearly, fewer women are moving up the executive IT ranks than in the past. The question is why?
Much of the blame can be attributed to the downturn in the economy, say some observers. When times are tough, women lose out everywhere. "Downsizing means that if women haven't already reached that stage of their careers, then they may not be in the group that gets to stay," says Sandra Hofmann, CIO of MAPICS Inc., a vendor of manufacturing software. If a woman hasn't built tenure, she adds, downsizing and M&As may soon be her downfall. "When times get tough," Hofmann says, "corporations may go to their 'core' leaders, who do not have as much diversity."
Then there's the pipeline issue. Fewer and fewer young women are choosing technology as a career. According to the Information Technology Association of America, women earned only 22 percent of all computer science and engineering undergraduate degrees in 2000, a figure that has not changed since 1998, despite the growth in the technology field. According to ITAA, the proportion of women in the overall IT workforce dropped from 41 percent to 34.9 percent between 1996 and 2002. Says Harris Miller, president of ITAA: "In positions that require technical expertise, our studies both six years ago and again in 2002 show that women are not nearly as well represented among IT workers as they are among the general U.S. workforce." And that has further reduced the size of the pool of younger women available to move into leadership positions. The reason? "We can't seem to get quite past this 'geeks are us' image," Miller says.
Meanwhile, CIOs report that more and more women are leaving corporate America to start their own businesses. According to a 2002 study by the Center for Women's Business Research, women account for 6.2 million private business owners—a 14 percent increase since 1997. Women currently represent nearly half of all privately owned businesses in the U.S.
That's what Linda Pittenger did when she resigned from her position as CIO for sales and marketing technology of AT&T Corp. to launch people3 Inc. in 1996, now owned by Gartner Inc. The reason: Few opportunities to expand her leadership skills. "It was kind of a closed door," she says. "It's not very often that a CIO would become CEO of the same company, so you have to leave to become a CEO."
"The fact is that the glass ceiling still exists, and technology is one of the fields where it seems to be stronger than other areas," says Betty Spence, president of the National Association for Female Executives. Not only do men make more than women holding the same position—female CIOs make an average of $109,000 per year, compared with $122,000 for their male counterparts—but women must wait longer to get promoted. "Women tend to be stereotyped as staff rather than line people," says Spence. "Line people are the ones with revenue-generating responsibility, the ones who are willing to take risks, while women are stereotyped as people who don't take risks."
How can women claim more top spots? Encouraging more school-age girls to consider careers in technology is a critical first step. Claudia Morrell, director of the Center for Women and Technology, says her organization is undertaking special initiatives to do that, including a recent "Computer Mania Day" that taught 300 middle school girls, parents and teachers the importance of technology. "Since absolutely everything we do is somehow based in technology, we have to get women's voices represented to make sure the workforce needs of the future are met, and that women's interests are met."
Theresa Payton, senior vice president of retail and channel technology at Wachovia Corp., a financial-services firm in Charlotte, N.C., agrees. "As women, it is important that we acknowledge our responsibility to the future women leaders. We need to continue to evolve the workplace culture to advance this field as an attractive option for young women to enter."
Once part of the IT workforce, says MAPICS' Hofmann, it's all about mentoring. "I think part of this is the fault of women in business who have not mentored other women," she says. Indeed, according to Catalyst, an advocacy group for women in business, only one in four women is satisfied with the availability of mentors in her organization.
To promote diversity in her own company, Hofmann helps lead MAPICS' mentoring program, which pairs employees with higher-ranking staffers in another area of the business. Says Hofmann: "Executive women need to be much more active in providing mentorship to other women."
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