Tech industry still shortchanged on female perspective

Tech industry still shortchanged on female perspective

Summary: ZDNet's 20th anniversary: After two decades of tech, there still remains few women in the high-tech industry.

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TOPICS: CXO, IT Employment
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I don’t usually get worked up about gender issues, but I am dismayed with how few women there still are in the high-tech industry in 2011 versus 20 years ago.

As technology becomes increasingly integral to business sustainability and to society, I feel my sex is missing out--which means the industry likewise is shortchanged on the woman’s perspective. I liken it to running a medical research trial and neglecting to include women and girls in the clinical sample.

Gallery: Women of tech: Few but mighty

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics figures that of the roughly 537,000 people working as computer and information systems managers in 2010, 70.1 percent were men. If you do the math, that means only 29.9 percent were women. I don’t know what the figures were for 1991 when ZDNet burst onto the scene, but it is still a massive inequity. The percentages get even more skewed when you look at more technical careers.

Why do women shy away from technology? I think it has a lot to do with how girls are guided in elementary and high school. It also has to do with how we are treated once we get here. Consider the experience I had at my first major technology trade show in 1991: the now defunct Computer Dealer Exposition (aka Comdex). On the first day, I arrived for an appointment, where I was confronted by four seated men. Here’s how the conversation unfolded:

Man #1: “Great to meet you, have a seat and we’ll get started.” Me, noticing there are no free chairs: “Thanks, where?” Man #1, patting knee: “How about right here?

Fortunately, I have six brothers and stepbrothers so I got over it, and women are pushing forward, albeit more slowly than I would like. The gallery, "Women of tech: few but mighty," offers suggestions of a few rule-breaking women that have made/or are making an impact in the past 20 years. My list includes:

Yahoo! CEO Carol Bartz Google Senior Vice President of Business Operations Shona Brown Xerox CEO Ursula Burns Oracle President Safra Catz Palm Computing & Handspring CEO Donna Dubinsky Serial technology entrepreneur Judy Estrin Former Xerox CEO and Chairman Anne Mulcahy HP Executive Vice President Ann Livermore IBM Senior Vice President Virginia Rometty Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg IBM Senior Vice President Linda Sanford

I purposely omitted leaders who hold more "traditional" women's executive positions in corporate communications, marketing or human resources. Not because I don't think their contributions are critical (they are), but because these are areas where progress has been made over the years. I'm more interested in the women who are breaking the "rules."

In a December 2010 TED Talk video, Facebook’s Sandberg reminds us the gender gap isn’t a technology-specific thing. She suggests three things women can do to start rectifying the situation – and it would be great if the guys reading this would help support these ideas.

  • “Take a seat at the table.” Too often, women don’t assert their rightful position. Who knows why. Maybe we’re afraid of being called a bitch or being disliked, common fallout of female assertiveness.
  • “Make your partner a real partner.” This is directed primarily at any woman (or man) with children and cuts to the issue of how to ensure mothers and fathers share child-rearing equally if both work outside the home full time.
  • “Don’t leave before you leave.” Some women disengage from career challenges before they actually have children. Sandberg says “leaning back” is a career-damaging habit that doesn't just damage the individual but also reflects more broadly across the workplace. Sad, but true.

In the TED video, Sandberg says, the changes that things will change during her own career are minimal. But she’s rooting for her daughter -- AND her son to help usher in meaningful change that will bring more of the woman's perspective to the technology industry -- and, indeed, to corporate America in the larger sense: “I’m hopeful that future generations can [fix this]. I think a world that was run where half of our countries and half of our companies were run by women, would be a better world.”

Who knows, maybe in another 20 years?

» Return to ZDNet's 20th Anniversary Special

Topics: CXO, IT Employment

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12 comments
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  • RE: Tech industry still shortchanged on female perspective

    I'm happy to stick my head above the parapet, mainly because I have successfully employed many women in technical roles in computing and electronic engineering.<br><br>I always ask the question when this subject comes up; why won't some people accept that in general women are different to men. I believe it has nothing to do with school or attitudes to women doing 'men's work' it goes back to our roots as hunters and gatherers. Women nearly always make better team players and feel comfortable at co-operating with others while men feel more comfortable at leading and risk taking. As a result men are generally more comfortable with new technologies than women. You will note from the graphs that Computer and Mathematics has a higher percentage of women than some of the engineering roles. In my experience that is because women are as comfortable with programming and mathematics as men because in general there is distinct benefit in co-operation compare with subjects such as electronic design where solitary thinking produces innovative results.<br>If you looked at the graphs for administration, nursing, doctors and veterinarians I am sure you would see a very different picture.<br><br>I say vive la difference
    GreyTech
  • yes, but...

    Like GreyTech I am worn out with all the bleating and hand wringing about the lack of wymen in this, that, or the other. If a woman can show she's better at something and an employer fails to hire her then the competition will. Institutional discrimination is lo-o-o-ong over with. The same goes for blacks, hispanics, etc.

    As long as [fill in the blank] does not cause a disruptive work environment and they are as good or better than other candidates they get hired, not withstanding some outliers who won't hire [fill in the blank] no matter what.

    This article is bigotted in that it assumes there MUST be a female contribution in order to attain a "good" outcome.
    wizardjr
    • RE: Tech industry still shortchanged on female perspective

      @wizardjr:<br><br>Spoken like a true American who has never been discriminated against or cut down for the color of their skin, gender, etc.<br>The saddest part about your reply is that the same doctrines you spout are allowing the destruction of America through outsourcing and corporate greed; i.e. when companies are based on societies, populations, and sustainability of all it's citizens/employees, those issues are not segregant, but serve as the glue that supports and grows it.<br><br>America has always thrived on diversity, if we can only learn to do it without suppressing/exploiting those who are different.
      rick.sheeley
  • RE: Tech industry still shortchanged on female perspective

    Give it a rest will you? You get here just like anyone else: Work hard and take no one's crap!
    winddrift03
  • I think it's a social perception thing...

    Geek men are barely tolerated by society (I have to express much disappointment in that).

    Many women, I think, perceive the hard tech fields like engineering as one of those evil necessities, like trash collecting. It's needed but they wouldn't be caught dead doing it themselves. Women are very social and are very attuned to social acceptance. When it comes time to choose that career in high school and college, choosing one that is so mired in geek-dom can be viewed as social suicide by her and her social group.

    What does our society value? Sport stars, who really have no social value other than the entertainment of men virtually beating the tar out of one another--and yet we think the roman coliseum was barbaric.

    Until we start celebrating the scientific mind, and what contributions they make to humanity, young women will continue to choose more "socially positive" fields. Notice how much management women are in? It's socially positive for them to be in that part of the field. If they say "Hi, I'm a tech manager" people are happy as opposed to them wondering what's wrong with them for being a lab-rat.
    Zorched
  • RE: Tech industry still shortchanged on female perspective

    I work in an ALL WOMEN IT Dept. Yes our VP is a male but the nuts and bolts and day to day comes down to 4 women. You have to have an aptitude for figuring things out much like a researcher. You also have to be able to put things back together after you take them apart and have them work, even better. Lots of women are not interested in that line of work especially if it involves getting dirty. For some of us here we are also mothers, wives and not at all geeky.

    I agree lets make IT more appealing to females at an early age. Empower them by having classes that teach simple things like how to upgrade the memory. Demystify it you may find they love it!
    Anne
    agraziano
  • RE: Tech industry still shortchanged on female perspective

    The comment, "Women just are not wired to function at the top levels". Is pure BS, My oldest daughter tried to get above a supervisory level at two companies and all got was "thud" from hitting the glass ceiling. Finally a former coworker (male) contacted her. A year after leaving the second company a former coworker (now a headhunter) contacted her and stated over lunch, they realized what was thrown away when her efforts for advancement were ignored because of her gender. Lack of women in tech, talent is not the problem, try male hormones. signed, a father
    stevenpolodna@...
  • RE: Tech industry still shortchanged on female perspective

    Heather,

    I can't recall now where it was, but I remember that there were studies from the 70's or 80's that showed that while women were often behind the curve as far as technology business adoption and acceptance, they were often the early adopters of technologies, because they excel as communicators, and of course because they (as a general rule) are tied more closely to children and teenagers who adapt technologies much more readily than parents.

    Also, many studies are now showing that women are becoming the majority in corporate and professional environments. So, I wonder, just as in professional sports, will tech start to reflect this reality, as did African Americans in the 60's and 70's?
    rick.sheeley
  • hmm..but..?

    This is sooooo true, and it's a shame..but I'd also point out that there are also a very few African-Americans in those same "higher-up" positions - or at least, if there are any..they sure don't get any publicity. Few blacks go into engineering/computer science areas, and even fewer are able to work their way up any ladders. I know for one reason a large problem is that many blacks think these fields are "nerdy" (they are), and so would rather do something more "urban" - yet these positions pay bills (and do that quite well in fact), so it's a shame those fields don't do more to promote blacks in said fields..

    ..beyond that though - combine the two: black women..and I am hard-pressed to find any..I've had only one African-American computer science professor, and that's a shame too.

    (and yes, I am an African-American graduating senior in computer science and applied mathematics..just to get that out there too haha)
    EzEatNCSU
  • The Women of ENIAC

    The first fully electronic American general-purpose computer was ENIAC, and the vast majority of its day-to-day management and programming was done by a small group of women. They are one of the most overlooked groups of female contributors to the history of general-purpose computers.

    What does that mean in the context of this discussion?

    It means that women have been a critical part of computers since the beginning, and since these women were the main programmers it also means that in terms of skills, they were at a minimum equal to (if not superior to) many men who performed the same tasks on that same equipment.

    Bottom line: women have been there with computer history all along, and chances are that they don't always make enough noise to be heard...or their stories aren't being told. I also agree with a previous post that indicated the "semi-anti-social" nature of geekdom plays a role in chasing off perfectly capable women from computer science and engineering. I think that the mass proliferation of computers and the Internet into everyone's handheld device and living room is working to overturn that stigma, however. Now, if you write a program for your Android phone that does something neat, and you show it to your fellow high school buddies, you're less likely to be looked at as a loser geek and more likely to be seen as a brilliant demigod...except by the persistent group of idiots who think that having another guy's name (like Tommy Hilfiger's) imprinted on your underpants is the only way to be socially acceptable.
    cryptikonline
  • RE: Tech industry still shortchanged on female perspective

    You missed Katherine Braun of Western Digital. During the '80s she took the storage division from tens of millions to nearly a billion dollars in revenue. In fact, the whole storage division from engineering to marketing was almost entirely run by women, and was one of the best places I ever worked.
    wilback
  • RE: Tech industry still shortchanged on female perspective

    "Heather Clancy is an award-winning business journalist with a passion for green technology and corporate sustainability issues." Of course she is . . .
    JAG39