Net shatters gender myths for entrepreneurial women

The roaring new economy is a genderless frontier with equal opportunity for men and women.

The roaring new economy is a genderless frontier with equal opportunity for men and women

In other words, it is nirvana for energetic, entrepreneurial women, according to several female chief executives of dot-com companies who have jumped to the sector after paying dues in more traditional industries.

"The Internet, on all levels, is a much more democratic and level playing field. It's more about smarts, drive and passion, than who you are, ethnically and gender-wise," said Lisa Crane, CEO of Internet music firm

Does IT help to equalise gender? NO

While refreshing, the opportunities afforded Crane and her peers, such as Meg Whitman, CEO of online auctioneer eBay Inc., are still the exception. On Wednesday, International Women's Day, women around the world protested the continued gap in wages between men and women.

"I've found little issues about being a woman in this business. There still might be a boys club in the financing end of the business, but otherwise the woman thing is pretty inconsequential," said Crane, a former NBC and Universal Studios executive.

Indeed, top female CEOs such as Hewlett-Packard Co. CEO Carly Fiorina -- the only woman to lead one of the Dow 30 blue-chip companies -- prefer not to be looked at as "female" chief executives.

"I hope we've reached the time where gender is interesting, but not the main focus," Fiorina said.

"Companies that are going to survive or excel have to focus on getting the best talent, regardless of gender, race or anything else," she said. "Bias of any kind is a luxury companies can no longer afford." At times, Crane meets people who think women are technophobic. "There are people who think you don't know what you're talking about, which is offensive," she said.

Equally offensive were suggestions by recruiters that she pursue "female" jobs such as marketing and brand development.

But Pam Miller, CEO of San Francisco-based Rocket Network, actually thinks this is what sets women apart in the sector.

"I have a bit of a theory that there are a lot of women who are becoming successful CEOs in Internet businesses because of all the branding that's going on with the Internet," she said.

For so long, the business was just technology-driven, but now there's a need for marketing skills.

"Marketing has always been more female-oriented than engineering. That's why you're seeing more woman in dotcom companies," said Miller, citing her friend Julie Wainright, who runs and was formerly CEO of

"Julie and I worked together at Clorox, and she's been terribly successful at focusing on branding," Miller noted.

Crane said children seemed to be a deterrent when she was pursuing jobs in entertainment. But it rarely comes up now.

"People in this (Internet) industry assume that if you're in and have kids, you've figured out how to work around it," said Crane, a mother of three.

But she admits the pace is not for everybody. "A lot of women in bigger companies want to cross over but they're afraid of the pace," she said.

The number of women between 25 and 34 in managerial and professional jobs has increased 14.6 percent to 5 million in the last five years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Still a mostly male world atop the Fortune 500 While female executives are on the rise, the top ranks of Fortune 500 companies are still dominated by men. The resignation last month of Mattel Inc. CEO Jill Barad left just three women at the helm of Fortune 500 firms, according to Catalyst, a New York-based women's advocacy and research group.

Barad's ouster led some experts to wonder whether female CEOs are getting harsher scrutiny.

"I think it's the consensus in the women's executive community that the few women in top spots get more media attention and are judged in a far harsher light on a short-term basis than their male counterparts," said Pearl Meyer, a compensation consultant.

"I don't know if the directors of Mattel would have judged a male differently, but I think there are concerns they may have been put under more pressure from the spotlight of the media and investors to a female CEO," she said.

Members of Mattel's board have denied that gender played a role in Barad's departure following months of intense pressure over slipping sales and profits.

Besides Hewlett-Packard's Fiorina, other top female chief executives at Fortune 500 companies include Andrea Jung of Avon Products Inc. and Marion Sandler, co-chief executive of Golden West Financial Corp.

Employment experts said demographics should eventually level out the playing field.

"The climb in a Fortune 500 company is a rigorous, 20- to 30-year trek. There wasn't a large pool of qualified women in these companies prior to 1970, but now 50 percent of people in grad school are women," said Bob Rollo, an executive recruiter and president of Los Angeles-based Rollo Associates.

"The big trick now is for any Fortune 500 company is to retain their best people because there's some really great opportunities in these small dotcoms, where there is no glass ceiling," he said.

Indeed, last month, Heidi Miller quit her job as chief financial officer of Citigroup Inc. to become CFO of Internet company Miller last year was named the second most powerful businesswoman by Fortune Magazine, behind Fiorina.