IT companies 'discriminate towards women'

It appears that one speaker got a keynote spot at Microsoft's Professional Developer Conference thanks to her gender

Women no longer seem worried about being discriminated against in the IT industry and some have the opposite concern — that they are given additional opportunities because of their gender.

That was the prevailing feeling at Microsoft's Professional Developer Conference, (PDC) taking place in Los Angeles this week.

During a discussion on how to increase diversity in the IT industry, none of the female executives on an all-female panel spoke about sexism or discrimination in the workplace. Instead, they emphasised that women should take responsibility for their career progression.

One female IT professional asked the panel of women from Microsoft, consulting firms and analyst groups about their experience of positive discrimination in the industry. She claimed she personally felt guilty that she had often been given opportunities that had not been offered to the men in her team.

Dee Dee Walsh, a director at Microsoft, agreed that women can be given additional opportunities because of their gender. Walsh claimed she was encouraged to demonstrate a particular technology during the opening PDC keynote session because all preceding presentations had been given by men.

"Microsoft has a lot of that [positive discrimination]. In fact, I did a demo today at the keynote, even though it was a demo they probably didn't want to have in a keynote. They had white male, white male, white male presenting, so my demo got in there," said Walsh.

She encouraged the female members of the audience to take such opportunities as "there's enough stuff that won't go your direction".

Angela Mills, a Microsoft programme manager, also agreed that there have been "plenty of occasions" where she has worried that a particular opportunity has been given to her because of her gender, but advised women IT professionals to not think about this.

"I don't know [if that's the reason], I don't care — I only know that I wouldn't get the opportunity if I wasn't good enough," said Mills.

Although women may be given some additional opportunities, this does not appear to have helped their promotion prospects, as women are underrepresented in senior IT roles. In addition, many women say they have to work harder than male colleagues to achieve success, according to research published by the Department of Trade and Industry and IT trade body Intellect last week.

To tackle the problem of women being under-represented at senior levels, Shoshanna Budzianowski, a group programme manager at Microsoft, said companies should gather data to find out whether there is a pattern of women not being offered promotions. They should identify hiring and promotional practices in the organisation that could be causing this, she said.

One way that women can help their career progression is by volunteering ideas and opinions in team meetings, according to Budzianowski.

"I have no problem coming up with really stupid ideas, even if 90 percent of them are thrown away," she said. "In my team, it's the people who are willing to voice an opinion who are offered leadership opportunities," Budzianowski said.

Anne Thomas Manes, a research director at analyst firm the Burton Group, agreed that getting involved in company discussions is vital.

"If you are shy you have to figure out how to get over it. Even if you're not sure about a topic, be forceful in the discussion," she said. "If you're going to be a wallflower you'll never get ahead."